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System earns poor ratings

June 20, 2001

Parents who are channel-surfing with their children might think TV-MA stands for “mighty awesome.”

However, it doesn’t.

It stands for “Mature Audience only,” and is part of the rating system used to protect children from viewing inappropriate television shows.

In his new book, Bradley Greenberg, MSU professor of communication and telecommunication, says most parents don’t understand the rating system.

Greenberg said the idea for his book, “The Alphabet Soup of Television Rating Programs,” came from the research he was conducting on the effects of television on children.

Television, he said, is trying to police itself and that was the scheme of his research. The Federal Communications Commission monitors television by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A rating system was adopted by the FCC to aid parents in choosing programming for their children. These ratings are called TV Parental Guidelines, and were installed in 1997.

“The networks were told by Congress to ‘do it or we’ll do it for you,’” he said.

The guidelines have two parts: an age-based rating, which indicates the age group appropriate for viewers of each show, and a content-based rating that lets viewers know if the show contains sex, violence or adult dialogue.

The FCC also developed a technology known as the “V-Chip.” The V-Chip will read the information encoded in the rated program and block programs from the set based on the rating selected by a parent.

Greenberg said the main reason parents are confused is because the ratings don’t mean the same thing from one show to another.

“The industry has to get its act together and create common definitions as to what is appropriate for what age,” he said. “The ratings information should also appear on screen more than every half hour and it should be verbal.”

Greenberg also said educating parents on the rating system would improve it.

“You can’t agree to disagree,” he said. “Until there is a standard you have nothing but chaos.”

Rick Shafer, associate director of the Department of Student Life and a father, says he doesn’t pay attention to the system.

“We make our own judgment about shows and we don’t let (the children) watch a show that we haven’t watched,” he said.

Shafer said if he does watch something with his children that has content he feels is wrong, he talks to them.

“If you use the TV for baby-sitting, which we all do, and you don’t pay attention, you have to be prepared for what (children) might see,” he said. “I believe a lot more in parenting than I do the rating system.”

Tracy Dorn, a communication junior, said the ratings don’t hold any significance in her mind.

“Ratings are relative,” she said. “One person’s judgment isn’t going to affect my judgment.”

State News staff writer Shannon Murphy contributed to this report.

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