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TV Executives Tentatively Agree To Use Age-Based Ratings System

By Paul Farhi
The Washington Post

After months of discussion, television industry executives have tentatively agreed to a rating system that will categorize TV programs based on their appropriateness for children of various ages. Viewers will begin seeing these ratings on almost all entertainment programs starting next month.

In opting for an age-based system, the group has rejected proposals from educators, children's advocates and some TV producers that the ratings be based on program content - say, "S" for sexually oriented material, "V" for violence, and "L" for coarse language.

The new system will be loosely based on the broad categories used by the Motion Picture Association of America for new movies, executives said. The MPAA system uses letters and numbers to indicate a movie's general suitability for young people - G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 - but doesn't indicate whether a movie earned its rating for violence, sexual content, or some other reason. Although there were reports last week that the industry group had worked out its ratings categories, in fact those decisions have not been made.

Critics, such as the National PTA and the American Medical Association, complain that a system based on the MPAA formula will not provide sufficient information for parents.

"An age-based system doesn't tell you why a program is appropriate or inappropriate for an age group," said Vicky Rideout, a director of Children Now, a children's advocacy organization based in Oakland, Calif.

Sidestepping these complaints, members of the ratings development group said they chose the MPAA system as a model because it is both simple and familiar to parents. "We're going to do this with honesty and integrity, or it won't work," insisted one member of the industry group.

The industry panel hopes to announce its plans formally before Christmas. MPAA chief executive Jack Valenti, who presided over the creation of the movie ratings in 1968, is also overseeing the TV ratings group, which consists of executives from the four leading broadcast networks, several cable networks and others from TV stations and TV production businesses.