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In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress called upon the entertainment industry to establish a voluntary television rating system to provide parents with information about material in television programming that would work the V-Chip. The V-Chip is a device built into television sets that enables parents to block programming they determine to be inappropriate for their families. On February 29, 1996, all segments of the entertainment industry — led by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — joined together and voluntarily pledged to create such a system. They agreed that the guidelines would be applied by broadcast and cable networks in order to handle the large amount of programming that must be reviewed — some 2,000 hours per day.

To develop the new guidelines system, the industry formed an Implementation Group under the leadership of then-MPAA President Jack Valenti. The Implementation Group represented all segments of the entertainment industry, including national broadcast networks; affiliated, independent and public television stations; cable programmers and operators; producers and distributors of cable programming; syndicators; entertainment companies; and members of the creative guilds representing writers, directors, producers and actors. The Implementation Group conducted a number of regional focus groups and a national poll seeking information on what parents might want in a television rating system. They also met and consulted with scores of parental, medical, religious, child advocacy and educational groups to listen to their views on how the parental guidelines system should be structured.

On December 19, 1996, the television industry announced the creation of the TV Parental Guidelines, a voluntary system of guidelines providing parents with advance, cautionary information to help them make more informed choices about the television programs their families watch. The guidelines were modeled after the familiar MPAA movie ratings. The television industry also agreed to insert an on-screen ratings icon at the beginning of all rated programs and to encode the guidelines for use with the V-Chip technology. Each ratings category contains a description of the kind of content that might appear in programs with that rating, and provides guidance for parents about the appropriate age range of the show’s intended audience.

The ratings categories are separated into two groups: ratings for programs designed for children and ratings for programs designed for general audiences. The two children’s ratings were created based on input from child advocacy experts who raised concerns about the special sensitivities of young children. The children’s ratings are: TV-Y, for programs designed for all children, and TV-Y7, for programs directed at children seven years or older.

The “general audience” ratings categories are as follows: TV-G (general audience — appropriate for all ages), TV-PG (parental guidance suggested — may be unsuitable for younger children), TV-14 (parents strongly cautioned — may be unsuitable for children under 14 years of age), and TV-MA (for mature audiences only — may be unsuitable for children under 17).

A TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board (Monitoring Board), comprised of TV industry experts, was also created to help ensure accuracy, uniformity and consistency of the guidelines and to consider public questions and complaints about the guidelines applied to a particular program.

On January 17, 1997, the television industry submitted the TV Parental Guidelines to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for consideration. In the spring of 1997, then-Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) held a hearing on the ratings system and received testimony from child advocacy experts and members of the entertainment industry. Additionally, then-House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) held a field hearing in Peoria, Illinois. The comments received at the FCC and in these congressional hearings overwhelmingly supported providing additional content information as part of the ratings system.

During the late spring and early summer of 1997, the television industry, in consultation with the medical and child advocacy community, discussed potential options for revising the TV Parental Guidelines. The following organizations participated in these discussions: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), the American Psychological Association (APA), the Center for Media Education (CME),the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), Children Now, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the National Education Association (NEA), and the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

On August 1, 1997, the NAB, NCTA and MPAA submitted a revised ratings system to the FCC for review. Under this revised system, television programming would continue to fall into one of the six ratings categories (TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, TV-MA). However, content descriptors of D (suggestive dialogue), L (language), S (sexual content), V (violence) and FV (fantasy violence — exclusively for the TV-Y7 category) would be added to the ratings where appropriate. In addition, the ratings icons and associated content symbols would appear for 15 seconds at the beginning of all rated programming, and the size of the icons would be increased. Finally, the revised industry proposal called for the addition of five representatives of the advocacy community to the Monitoring Board. The revised guidelines were supported by leading family and child advocacy groups, as well as television broadcasters, cable systems and networks, and television production companies. On March 12, 1998, the FCC found that the Industry Video Programming Rating System was acceptable and subsequently adopted the technical requirements for the V-Chip.

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