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'Voluntary' rating, definition of news on the Internet considered

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'Voluntary' rating, definition of news on the Internet considered 08/25/97 CYBERSPACE--Recent attempts to use technology to allow users to block…

‘Voluntary’ rating, definition of news on the Internet considered

08/25/97

CYBERSPACE–Recent attempts to use technology to allow users to block access to controversial subject matter on the Internet is leading to a bigger confrontation over the definition of “news” and whether it should be rated.

Representatives of World-Wide Web publishers, including the Wall Street Journal, the Newspaper Association of America, and Microsoft, are looking into a special news rating for their content. Critics protest that the news rating will either give the industry — or possibly government — the power to define what qualifies as news, or will lead to widespread blocking of news sites if any site can use the news label.

Currently, web sites may assign themselves a rating based on a system devised by the Recreational Software Advisory Council. Some web browsers incorporate a filter based on the ratings system, blocking access to unrated sites or sites whose ratings exceed those of the filter.

The Journal, CNN and Microsoft’s MSNBC cable channel reportedly recently removed themselves from ratings systems which did not have a special rating for news content, after learning that some users objected to violent news coverage on sites with a “zero” rating for violence, indicating the content was not violent.

Rather than subject their material to ratings that would limit viewership, the companies are now considering creating a special rating for news. A self-appointed industry group called the Internet Content Coalition is working with RSAC to help it define “news” and administer the news labeling program. Issues include who would determine which sites qualify as “news” sites and whether there should be a special rating for news.

The Newspaper Association of America has posted several essays regarding the controversy at its web site, and has invited comments on the issue to be sent to Molly Leahy at leahm@naa.org.