U.S. regulators may consider a single ratings system that would warn parents of programming on television, video games, and wireless telephones that could be inappropriate for children, according to a Bloomberg News report in late August.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an inquiry into the universal rating system with a goal "to shield children from inappropriate content in this rapidly changing media environment." That sounds great, but it's something that should be handled by parents and not the federal government.
Accordingly, it's fortunate that in a report this week (PDF) regarding the implementation of the Child Safe Viewing Act, the FCC found that the video game ratings scheme is a success and that "the video game industry already provides one of the most robust voluntary rating systems available." The report also concludes that the variety and variables within each media segment make it extremely difficult to manage.
Taken as a whole, the record indicates that no single parental control technology available today works across all media platforms. Moreover, even within each media platform, these technologies vary greatly with respect to the following criteria: (i) cost to consumers; (ii) level of consumer awareness/promotional and educational efforts; (iii) adoption rate; (iv) customer support; (v) ease of use; (vi) means to prevent children from overriding parental controls; (vii) blocking content/black listing; (viii) selecting content/white listing; (ix) access to multiple ratings systems; (x) parental understanding of ratings systems; (xi) reliance on non-ratings-based system; (xii) ability to monitor usage and view usage history; (xiii) ability to restrict access and usage; (xiv) access to parental controls outside of the home; and (xv) tracking. In addition, a common theme that runs throughout the comments is the need for greater education and media literacy for parents and more effective diffusion of information about the tools available to them. Many commenters urge the government to play a more substantial role in meeting this need.
It's not realistic (or socially correct) for the government to police every piece of content, game or mobile phone application. Self-regulation and parental supervision are far better alternatives to measures that threaten the First Amendment.
This has been proven with video game ratings, managed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Video game ratings consist of six age-based ratings along with 30 content descriptors and while some may be applicable to other media types like TV, it's clear from the statement above that parental controls are a better answer. And while I have no doubt that parents could use some help, we should look to self-manage before we let the government further into our media.
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