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FCC pushes TV ratings hearings back again

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FCC pushes TV ratings hearings back again 06/30/97 WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Federal Communication Commission postponed a hearing on the television industry's…

FCC pushes TV ratings hearings back again

06/30/97

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Federal Communication Commission postponed a hearing on the television industry’s rating system from mid-June until mid-July, following a disruption in negotiations between parent advocacy groups and the television industry on revamping the ratings system.

Industry representatives broke off talks following what they described in a news release as Vice President Al Gore’s “unwarranted intervention” in the process when he publicly endorsed labeling television programs based on violent content.

The FCC said it postponed the hearing to provide the two sides with more time to reach an agreement, according to the Associated Press. The commission also extended the public comment period until the hearing date.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted comments in mid-June in response to comments and reply comments arguing that the ratings system should be applied to news programming.

The Reporters Committee argued that application of the ratings system to news could “hamper the public’s ability to educate itself about critical issues,” because coverage of political, social and cultural issues may require the use of strong language and images.

If news were rated, the Reporters Committee argued, television journalists would be forced to choose between airing a newsworthy story that might result in a pejorative rating, or excluding material protected by the First Amendment from their newscasts. Such regulations inevitably lead to self-censorship, because editors facing content regulations will seek to avoid controversy by excluding even questionable material from their broadcasts. Ratings would, in essence, act as a prior restraint on controversial speech.

The Supreme Court has stated that a regulation cannot, consistent with the Constitution, cut off an adult’s access to material in an effort to protect children from the alleged harmful effects of that material. Although some adult viewers may wish to shield children from strong images, they do not want news broadcasts to be censored or sugarcoated. In addition, some parents may wish to expose their children to the news as a vehicle for exploring such issues as gang violence, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence, the Reporters Committee said.