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However, the ratings are typically assigned by the producers of the programming, and there is no independent board responsible for standardizing or enforcing these ratings. Moreover, although the networks rate programs, only conscientious use of the “v-chip” by parents serves to block programming.

The main criteria governing ratings under the prescribed categories are sexual content, violence, coarse language, and suggestive dialogue; if these elements are present, a notice is displayed on the screen at the beginning of the program, as well as in most television programming guides. While depictions of underage alcohol use or abuse may be rated as TV-14 or TV-MA, no specific criterion governs this type of content under existing standards, and, as a result, alcohol content is not one of the special criteria communicated to parents in advance (see www.tvguidlines.org).1

Recommendation 8-4: Television broadcasters and producers should take appropriate precautions to ensure that programs do not portray underage drinking in a favorable light and that unsuitable alcohol content is included in the category of mature content for purposes of parental warnings.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The committee believes that standards to minimize underage exposure to lyrics, images and depictions with unsuitable alcohol content should be implemented on a voluntary basis by the pertinent industry trade associations and individual companies. However, as with the alcohol industry, some independent oversight of these standards is warranted. In both contexts, the committee believes that the most promising strategy is to promote industry accountability by facilitating public awareness of industry practices. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services be authorized and funded to monitor these media practices and report to Congress and the public.

Recommendation 8-5: Congress should appropriate the necessary funds to enable the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a periodic review of a representative sample of movies, television programs, and music recordings and videos that are offered at times or

1  

Direct regulation of content by the FCC is exercised only for obscene and indecent material, which has been interpreted almost exclusively to cover sexual depictions (http://www.fcc.gov/eb/broadcast/obscind.html, accessed November 15, 2002).

 



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