Parents have no way of knowing whether or not the Federal Communications Commission ratings that warn of inappropriate material are accurate before allowing their child to watch a particular program, according to an FCC report to Congress.
And that would be because the FCC doesn’t know. And neither does the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board, the panel of television-industry experts and public-interest advocates tasked with ensuring accuracy and consistency in the ratings.
The 15-page, mandated report notes multiple failures in a system meant to provide parents “with timely information about the nature of upcoming video programming and with the technical tools that would readily allow them to block violent, sexual, or other programming that they believe is harmful to their children.”
The report concludes “the ratings system has not changed in over 20 years” and says the federal bureaucracy “could better serve viewers if it were more accessible and transparent.”
“Indeed, greater transparency would make it easier to assess whether ratings are being accurately and consistently applied and could reduce criticism that certain commenters in this proceeding levy against TVOMB.”
The Parents Television Council said it’s good that the failures are recognized, but more needs to be done.
“We applaud the FCC for affirming the numerous, intrinsic failings of the TV content ratings system that we’ve been proclaiming for years,” said PTC President Tim Winter. “We wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations put forth by the commission to improve the ratings system and its oversight; but those improvements must not, cannot, simply be abdicated back to the very industry that has ensured the system’s failings thus far.
“Over the course of my countless conversations with policymakers inside the Beltway, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put it best: ‘How can we help parents to be better parents?’ That is precisely the right question for every stakeholder to be addressing here. The report’s last 12 words were perhaps its most important words: ‘We note the ratings system has not changed in over 20 years.’ Boom!”
Winter said FCC’s report “rightly notes that the vast majority of public comments it received came from individual consumers; it rightly notes that nearly all of the commenters voiced concerns or dissatisfaction; it rightly notes that the record suggests that a better job could be done; and it rightly notes that sufficient concerns have been expressed about the system’s accuracy to merit additional action.”
He said the next step “in the process for positive change needs to be public hearings, or perhaps a symposium, conducted by the Congress or the FCC, that can deliver to parents a reliable and robust content ratings system which reflects the realities of today’s entertainment media landscape.”
“The FCC’s Report must be a catalyst for improvement, not a terminus for this debate.”
The PTC is a non-partisan educational organization that pursues responsible entertainment. It was founded to ensure that children “are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media.”
The report said while there have been complaints that the rating system is inaccurate, the members had only 90 days to do the report. Therefore, they could not reach “any definitive or specific conclusions regarding ‘the extent to which the rating system matches the video content that is being shown.’”
In other words, they don’t know.
The report noted a complaint about the program “Dating Naked” being rated for 14-year-olds and the network defending the rating by arguing the show really is about “relationships.”
Many of the programs with violence are not listed as containing any, and even programs such as “Hannibal” and “The Walking Dead” were designated as OK for children.
One problem, the report said, is that networks rate their own programs, and “sponsors of television programming will not advertise on programs rated TV-MA.”
“Our primary conclusion is that the board has been insufficiently accessible and transparent to the public. … In our view, additional steps should be taken to increase awareness of the board’s role and the transparency of its operations,” the FCC report said.
One step, the FCC said, would be to inform the public of complaints that are filed and any action taken in response. Then a public meeting could be held each year to let the public express views, the report said.
Also, the report said, the board should do random audits or spot checks to maintain the accuracy and consistency of ratings.