The Hamilton Spectator
Thursday, January 16, 1997
page C11

Taking the V for Violence out of TV

by Bertrand Marotte

TORONTO -- The man behind the V-chip remains a fervent believer in the potential of technology that will help parents screen out television sex and violence, despite faltering attempts at creating a workable system.

Tim Collings, a 35-year-old Vancouver engineer who made a splash with his V-chip device, says the system may not be perfect, but that something must be done about the rising tide of television programming unsuitable for children.

"Television is going to become more explicit regardless of the V-chip", said Mr. Collings after a news conference to announce the awarding of world V-chip rights to a Canadian company -- Tri-Vision International Ltd. of Toronto.

People concerned about growing TV sex and violence are "not winning the battle in the United States" notwithstanding a commitment by President Bill Clinton to a movie-style ratings system and a new U.S. law requiring that a V-chip be integrated in all new television sets by 1998.

* Caved in *

In a previous newspaper interview, Mr. Collings was quoted as saying that "Canadian broadcasters have caved in" and are not moving ahead as forcefully as they could to establish an effective system.

On Tuesday, the father of three small children and one-time Sunday school teacher, said he's confident that governments and broadcasters will work out the difficulties and eventually fine-tune a system that works.

The Canadian broadcasting and cable industries have until April 30 to submit their own ratings system, which fully incorporates the ability to program the V-chip, to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

But the project is more than a year behind schedule and a five-week test of 500 families in five cities across Canada is only getting under way today, after many delays.

"I don't think it's unreasonable that there be confusion at the beginning. We expect neither perfection nor applause", said Trina McQueen, who chairs the Action Group on Violence on Television, made up of broadcasters and cable-TV companies, charged with co-ordinating a V-chip-based Canadian rating system.

"It's almost like giving people a new language to deal with", said Ms McQueen, who is also president of the Discovery specialty TV channel.

She acknowledged that there have been glitches and problems co-ordinating such a huge undertaking - devising detailed rankings for all programs appearing on TV.

Linda Leslie, manager of network scheduling at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., said there have been problems distributing the TV-top decoder boxes for the V-chip, as well as encoding the V-chip signal that must then be decoded.

"With the next round of tests we'll find out whether we are on the right track or if we've completely missed the mark", she said.

There are also questions about whether to eventually develop a North American-wide system, given the pervasiveness of U.S. television.

Mr. Collings, an engineering professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., said he was prompted to develop the V-chip after the 1989 massacre of 14 women engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal and the revelation that the assassin, Marc Lepine, had been a fan of violent videos.

Mr. Collings said he is proud to extend the world V-chip manufacturing and marketing rights to Tri-Vision, which won the Canadian rights last May.

Mr. Collings is a majority partner, with Simon Fraser University, in Canadian V-Chip Design, Inc., but he would not say for how much his company sold the V-chips to Tri-Vision.

Qamrul Siddiqi, secretary and vice-president of Tri-Vision, said his company is projecting annual sales of $200 million by the end of 2001 for all of North America.

He said the latest V-chip technology will retail at under $20.

V-chip technology

by Pamela Behnke

Possible rating system
Audience Violence Language Sexuality
Adult only graphicexplicitexplicit sexual activity
R - Restricted violencestrongfull nudity
A - 16+ briefcoarsemild sexuality
PG - Parental Guidance mildmildbrief nudity
G - General audiance comedicsuggestivemature theme
E - Exempt nonenonenone

The V-chip, developed by Simon Fraser University's Tim Collings, will give parents the option of deciding what programs their children can watch. Through a decoder or a built-in V-chip in new televisions, parents will have the ability to block out television shows they deem unsuitable. In order for the V-chip technology to succeed, the television industry will have to develop a rating system that would classify every show on television according to violence, nudity, and language content.

Source: Tri-Vision International Ltd.

Behind the V-chip

The issue:
Developing a television ratings system around the V-chip technology that allows parents to block out shows deemed unsuitable for their children.
What's new:
The man who invented the V-chip, Tim Collings, says he's confident a workable system will emerge, despite recent setbacks.
What it means:
V-chip or no V-chip, television will continue becoming more and more explicit, says Mr. Collings.
What's next:
The Canadian television industry has until April 30 to submit a ratings system, which integrates the V-chip, to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Copyright © 1997 by Southam News. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.