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Parents group derides V-Chip ads

Group says broadcasters' rating system for V-Chip isn't sufficient, supports bill offering alternatives.

Family-programming advocacy group Parents Television Council on Thursday blasted a newly launched broadcast-industry campaign touting use of the V-Chip, the device designed to allow parents to block sexually explicit and violent television programming.

Calling the cable- and satellite-industry rating system on which V-Chip blocking is based "inaccurate," the PTC offered its support instead for legislation that would require cable and satellite providers to apply broadcast indecency standards or offer a la carte or new "family tier" programming.

Announced on Tuesday, the $300 million industry-supported V-Chip campaign is intended to raise awareness of the TV ratings system and calls on parents to be "the boss of what your kids watch." The series of ads, presented by the Ad Council public-service advertising group, asks parents to use V-Chip technology to control their children's exposure to violence and sex on television. The campaign is supported by major cable, satellite and broadcast trade groups, including the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

At the press conference announcing the new bill, PTC President L. Brent Bozell described the campaign as a "shameful publicity stunt" that is "designed to absolve (the entertainment industry) of all responsibility for the raw sewage it pumps into America's living rooms night after night."

"The truth of the V-chip, aside from all the rhetoric, is that for the V-Chip to work, first and foremost it must rely on the ratings system. If the ratings system doesn't work, then the V-Chip doesn't work," Bozell told CNET The inaccuracy of the ratings system is all the more reason for parents to decide which specific channels they want to order, he said.

The Family Choice Act of 2006, co-sponsored by Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and Tom Osborne, R-Neb., could provide that choice if passed. The bill requires cable and satellite providers to choose one of three options: Adhere to the same Federal Communications Commission indecency standards as broadcasters; allow cable and satellite subscribers to opt out of certain channels and receive a refund; or offer a tier of programming that includes expanded basic service minus channels carrying TV-14 or TV-MA programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. News programs and live sporting events would be exempt.

Rob Stoddard, senior vice president for communications and public affairs for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which supports the V-Chip campaign, said in a statement that the group opposes the bill's "unnecessary government regulation of the pricing and packaging of video services" because it would drive up costs and decrease content diversity.

"We believe that parents are best suited to make TV viewing decisions for their families," he added.

Bozell said the Lipinski-Osborne bill gives parents control over the content before it enters their homes.

He added that "it is not parents who are responsible for the raunch that's on television. It is the television industry. Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars telling parents what to do, the industry should rethink this shameful publicity stunt and instead apply itself to cleaning up the mess it has created."

Last month, the Senate Commerce Committee voted down a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that included a clause that would force cable operators to offer a la carte programming.

Though Bozell said he is not sure if the Family Choice Act will pass, he says is convinced the concept behind it eventually will. "The more the public realizes they have options, as polls are showing, the more the public wants this."