The FCC this week launched an inquiry into whether the TV Parental Guidelines and the organization that oversees these ratings provide accurate information to viewers as to which TV programs are appropriate for children. The FCC released a Public Notice to initiate the inquiry at the direction of Congress in the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Bill – the Bill which ended the threat of a second government shutdown. That Bill contained a number of provisions directing various government agencies to take specific actions, including a direction to the FCC to provide a report to Congress in 90 days on the “extent to which the rating system matches the video content that is being shown” and whether the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (which oversees the ratings system) has the ability to address public concerns about the ratings. With the report due to be submitted to Congress by May 15, the FCC has asked for public comment on an expedited basis, with comments due March 12, and replies due just a week later on March 19.

The Board was established by a voluntary industry initiative approved by the FCC following a Congressional mandate for V-Chip technology in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For the V-Chip to work, programs have to be rated. The ratings that resulted are familiar to most TV viewers and range from TV-Y programming appropriate for all children to TV-MA, appropriate only for mature audiences. Programs are also rated for Violence (“V”), Fantasy Violence in programming for older children (“FV”), Sexual Content (“S”), Suggestive Dialogue (“D”) and Strong Language (“L”). These ratings are applied to most TV and cable programming except news, sports, and ads. Based on the claims by interest groups that the ratings do not accurately describe the programming, Congress issued this directive to the FCC. What questions does the FCC ask in its request for comments from the public?

The FCC seeks comment on numerous questions, including:

  • Whether the Board has done a good job responding to public input;
  • Whether the Board has improved the accuracy of the ratings over time;
  • Whether all of the programming that the industry committed to rate is in fact being rated;
  • Has the Board taken steps to enforce the ratings commitments from the industry;
  • Are programs being accurately rated and the standards for content ratings correctly applied;
  • Are the ratings being applied consistently; and
  • Are there any particular types of content that are more likely to be rated inaccurately.

While this Public Notice does not propose any specific action, in theory, were the Report to conclude that there were problems with the current system, follow up proceedings by the FCC or action by Congress to remedy perceived issues could follow. If you have comments on the system, follow the directions in the Public Notice to contribute to the discussion – and watch for the report generated based on these comments which is expected in May.