The Toronto Star
Friday, August 29, 1997

Parents to get TV rating guide for children

by Antonia Zerbisias

On-screen ratings intended to help parents decide the viewing habits of their children will begin appearing on Canadian television screens next month.

Starting Sept. 29, viewers will see a graphic icon in the upper left of the screen for 15 seconds at the beginning of each show.

The icons will contain a letter - sometimes accompanied by a number - to denote the age group for which the program is most suited.

The ratings - determined by the broadcasters themselves - will not be seen on variety, sports, news, music, talk, documentary, and other information programming.

But those that are rated - including U.S. shows telecast on Canadian networks - will carry a symbol meant to inform viewers how much violence, sex, and profanity the shows contain.

The ratings are an attempt by broadcasters to provide some method of telling caregivers about the content and suitability of a program for a specific age group.

Symbol denotes shows suitable for kids 8 and older.

Yesterday, the industry's Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT) unveiled the icons - a stylized square with a maple leaf edge - and their rating codes.

C denotes suitability for all ages, including very young children; C8 means the show is best for viewers over the age of 8; a G will go on programming aimed at general audiences; PG denotes a parental advisory; 14+ means the show should be watched by those over the age of 14, while an 18+ warns of adult content.

As well as the initial appearance at a show's beginning, the ratings symbol will be shown again at the beginning of the second hour of longer programs.

AGVOT said it will ask TV listings magazines, including The Star's Starweek, to co-operate with the industry in publishing the ratings alongside program titles and descriptions.

"We haven't been officially informed by the ratings people", said The Star's entertainment editor John Ferri, adding that no decision has yet been made as to how the ratings will be handled.

Canadian viewers have been awaiting the ratings system, which closely resembles the U.S. version launched in January, for nearly two years.

The new system, approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in June, was originally expected to contain individual symbols to denote the levels of violence (V), profanity (L) and sexuality (S) in each program.

Those symbols would have allowed parents whose TVs were equipped with a V-Chip, a device that would block out unwanted programming, to filter out what they specifically didn't want their children to see.

But, for technical and programming reasons, both Canadian and U.S. programmers balked at introducing detailed content-based ratings.

In Canada, the industry said that field trials indicated that such a complex system confounds the software, and does not react readily to program changes.

Furthermore, industry research indicates that, after the initial hype about the Canadian-invented V-Chip, interest in blocking technology has waned in Canada.

South of the border, where the V-Chip and the ratings have become a political hot potato, many parents', teachers', and media monitoring groups are demanding the introduction of detailed content-based ratings.

A group of U.S. congress members is negotiating with the industry to change the ratings, although a three-year moratorium on any such changes has been promised.

The outcome of the negotiations could have an impact on the Canadian ratings system should significant changes be made.

Last year, President Bill Clinton signed a telecommunications bill legislating the mandatory inclusion of the V-chips in all TV sets manufactured starting in 1998.

No such legislation is expected in Canada.

Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.