TV Programs Lack Accurate Ratings; V-chip Cannot Work With Inaccurate
LOS ANGELES - Today, the Parents Television Council (PTC), the nation's most
influential advocacy organization protecting children against sex, violence
and profanity in entertainment, released a new study, "The Ratings Sham: TV
Executives Hiding Behind a System That Doesn't Work," that found the current
ratings system and V-chip are failures.
"Our findings show the blatant hypocrisy of TV executives who claim that
parents should rely on TV ratings and the V-chip to protect their children.
Most television programs showing foul language, violence, and inappropriate
sexual dialogue or situations do not use the appropriate content descriptors
that would warn parents about the presence of offensive content," said L.
Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.
For this study, the PTC examined prime time entertainment programs from the
first two weeks of the November 2003, February 2004, and May 2004 sweeps on
the seven commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, ITV, UPN, and
the WB). These weeks traditionally have mostly original programming, which
typically means a high level of indecent material as networks attempt to
boost ratings. The study period comprised 638 shows, and a total of 528
The PTC set out to evaluate whether the programs were appropriately and
consistently labeled with the age-based and content ratings that would
trigger the V-chip and thus allow parents to block objectionable content.
● Every network had problems with the accurate and consistent application of
content descriptors (a D, S, L, or V indicating the presence of suggestive
dialogue, sexual behavior, foul language, or violence), which were added to
the TV ratings system after complaints that the earlier age-based ratings
system was too vague.
● To this day, NBC still does not use content descriptors on its programs.
Moreover, 36% of NBC's programs reviewed for this study received a TV-PG
rating, even though many of these shows contained foul language and adult
● Of the 85 PG-rated shows on ABC, 52% were missing necessary content
descriptors. 40% of the PG-rated shows containing foul language lacked an L
descriptor; 75% of shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 60% of
the shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and 92% of the
shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.
● 73% of ABC's TV-14-rated shows lacked
appropriate content descriptors.
● CBS fared better than ABC with the content descriptors, but still has
plenty of room for improvement. Of the 89 shows given a PG rating, 34% of
the shows containing foul language lacked an L descriptor; 44% of the shows
containing violence lacked the V descriptor; 57% of the shows containing
sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and none of the 19 shows containing
sexual behavior featured the S descriptor.
● 81% of CBS's TV-14-rated shows containing
sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor.
● On the WB network, of the 49 PG-rated
shows containing foul language, 59% lacked an L descriptor. Of the 26
PG-rated shows containing violence, 35% lacked the V descriptor. Of the 50
PG-rated shows with sexual dialogue, 64% lacked the D descriptor.
● 82% of WB's TV-14-rated shows
containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.
● On Fox, 43% of the shows were missing
appropriate content descriptors. 22% of the shows missing sexual content
descriptors were in the seven o'clock hour (on Sunday, prime time begins at
7:00 p.m. Eastern) and 33% in the eight o'clock hour.
● 42% of Fox's PG-rated shows containing foul language lacked the L
descriptor; 60% of the PG-rated shows containing violence lacked the V
descriptor; 71% of the PG-rated shows containing suggestive dialogue lacked
the D descriptor; and 76% of the shows containing sexual behavior lacked the
● UPN did a good job of identifying
foul language. Of the 26 PG-rated shows with foul language, only 3 lacked
the L descriptor. With respect to other kinds of content, UPN fared worse.
Of the 63% of PG-rated shows containing violence lacked the V descriptor;
67% of the PG shows containing sexual dialogue lacked the D descriptor; and
93% of the PG shows containing sexual behavior lacked the S descriptor.
● Even the wholesome ITV network has
problems with rating its programs appropriately. Because it is owned by NBC,
ITV also does not use content descriptors. Nevertheless, 80% of the shows it
gave a TV-G rating featured foul language and should have been given an L
"The TV ratings are meaningless. There is no inter-network consistency in
the ratings, nor is there even intra-network consistency. The ratings system
is a failure and consequently the V-chip, which depends upon reliable
ratings to work, also is a failure. It cannot be relied upon to consistently
and accurately block offensive programming since parents can't rely on the
ratings to identify potentially offensive content," Bozell continued.
"Broadcasters are responsible for rating their own shows, yet they are
financially motivated to under-rate their programs so that they don't scare
"The descriptors are the key to the V-chip's effectiveness. It is not enough
to simply educate the public about the V-chip. Networks, intent on relying
on the device, must be held accountable to rate shows in a manner that makes
the device useful. If parents cannot understand the arbitrary way in which
the networks rate their shows and cannot trust the V-chip to block shows
because of the lack of content descriptors, they are powerless to decipher
what is suitable for their children," concluded Bozell.
Read the Full Study