Government Regulation of Television Programming


It wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 that I finally understood that the little codes in a black box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen were program ratings. It was not until I started researching for this blog post that I learned that there is a small device, called a V-Chip, that is required by the Federal Communications Commission to be in all televisions with 13-inch (33 centimeter) or bigger screens. These microchips allow parents to block programs based on the ratings they are given by the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association.

The TV Parental Guidelines

TV-Y: Appropriate for all ages

TV-Y7: For children ages seven and older; may include mild fantasy or comedic violence

TV-G: General Audience – Suitable for all ages

TV-PG: Parental Guidance Suggested – may include moderate violence (V), some sexual situations (S), infrequent coarse language (L), and/or some suggestive dialogue (D).

TV-14: Parents Strongly Cautioned – Most parents would find content unsuitable for children under 14; may contain intense violence (V), sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or intensely suggestive dialogue (D).

TV-MA: Mature Audience Only – these programs are specifically designed to be viewed by adults and are generally not suitable for children under 17; contains graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), crude indecent language (L), and/or nudity (N).

The government regulated the implant of V-Chips so that technology was available for parents to regulate what their children could watch on television, but the government regulation and censorship is still hotly debated. On the one hand, the Parents Television Council works to “protect children and families from graphic sex, violence, and profanity in the media because of their proven long-term, harmful effects.” Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that the three hours on average that youth and adolescents spend each day watching television are creating negative health effects on violence, sexuality, academic performance, self-image, weight and obesity, and substance use and abuse patterns. Organizations like these believe in the aggressive stimulation theory and the Cumulative Effects that Vivian expounds upon in his Media of Mass Communications text. Missi Tessier, on the other hand, cites research that concludes that the ratings system, combined with the use by parent of the government-installed V-Chip, eliminates the need for further government censorship of television content because they provide a system of regulation that protects youth from seeing what they are not yet ready to see.

 To Censor or Not to Censor?

What is it about the television landscape that has everyone talking about the “C”-word? Could it be the shared space of channels like Adult Swim and Cartoon Network? Are the ratings becoming more liberal? Or is it perhaps simply the increased popularity and widespread promotion of shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones that peaks childrens’ interests in very mature content?  Should we allow the government to censor television programming in order to keep from harming our youth, or would we be harming them by censoring television content and not exposing them to real-life subjects?



The TV Parental Guidelines

The National Cable and Television Association Newsroom

The Parents Television Council

The American Academy of Pediatrics Journal

Federal Communications Commission