Media Researchers: Don't Let Industry Rate Own Content

A pair of media researchers/academics have provided input on how the media content ratings could, and should, be improved, including standardizing them across platforms and taking ratings calls out of the hands of industry.

That came in a letter to Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, who is also chairman of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which oversees the content ratings and whose leadership rotates among the heads of NCTA, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Related: PTC Presses Powell for Ratings Board Changes

Promoting the changes were Brad Bushman, Rinehart chair of mass communications at Ohio State, and Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

The professors pointed out that they had suggested changes to the content ratings system as members of an advisory committee to the National Science Foundation on youth violence, a committee formed in the wake of the Newtown mass school shooting and attendant focus on the media's impact on real-world violence, though focused primarily on video games.

In their letter to Powell, which follows the FCC's report to Congress concluding it could not say the ratings were accurate or the industry had done enough to promote the ratings. They said it was now time to update the ratings per these recommendations.

Part of the reason the FCC said it could not draw conclusions about the system was the short time frame Congress gave it to make that determination, so the researchers are looking to the board to make changes.

(1) "Use the same rating system for all forms of media (e.g., TV, movies, video games)"
(2) "Use simple, age-based, ratings (e.g., 12+ for ages 12 and older)"
(3) "Use easy-to-understand symbols for content-based ratings (e.g., fist for violence,
syringe for drugs)"
(4) "Have ratings assigned by child development experts rather than the entertainment industry"

Bushman and Rinehart said they would be happy to help revamp the ratings.

After the Newtown shootings, NAB, NCTA, MPAA, the American Cable Association, and others all signed on to a campaign whose objectives were to promote the TV and film ratings systems as easy-to-use parental content control tools. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.