Sen. Markey Eyeing TV Ratings System Complaints

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) could be weighing back in to the kids TV content and ratings fray.

A group of academics—from Harvard to New Mexico—has written FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and the other commissioners asking them to look into the TV ratings system and how it could be improved given what they say is the documented impact of TV, including violent content, on children. They also want Congress to get involved.

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Markey was a driving force behind the TV ratings/V-chip system as a member, including chair and ranking member, of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee and has continued to advocate for protecting kids on-air and online ever since. Both broadcasters and cable operators use the system.

A spokesperson for the senator said they were aware of the letter and had been "holding meetings with various groups on it" and the concerns raised, adding: "More to come."

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"Ratings can be effective only if they (1) indicate content that can be beneficial or harmful and (2) are useful for parents," they wrote Wheeler in a letter dated April 26. "A great deal of valid scientific research has shown that ratings can indicate such content, but to date such valid content rating systems have not been implemented in a way that is useful for parents. For this reason, we are asking for the FCC and Congress to hold hearings on the ratings and how they could be changed to be valuable for the public."

The Parents Television Council, which posted the letter on its website, has also called for a remake of the ratings system and industry board that oversees it.

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PTC says virtually no shows are rated as suitable for the whole family in primetime, that shows are being mis-rated and that networks rating their own shows has always been problematic and an inherent conflict of interest. It wants the FCC to throw out the old system and start over and says it will make itself heard at the FCC and Congress—it has already met with members of the FCC's congressional oversight committees, according to PTC.

The TV industry adopted the content ratings system in 1997 under pressure from Markey, along with then-Senators Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.

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.