V-chips and ratings won't help and may hurt

TV Takes On Family Values.Stay Tuned.

PRESIDENT Clinton hails the so-called V-chip and a TV-rating system as a step forward in the fight for traditional family values. He's wrong. If we continue on this course, we'll open the way to a moral decline in our society that will be worse than anything we've seen in this country's history.

Mr. Clinton claims that by providing a rating system, parents will be able to make educated decisions about what to allow their children to watch. Yet this presupposes that parents will accept the responsibility of monitoring their children's choice of shows. What about the children in families where parents don't care and don't take responsibility?

Children from these families are already a major social risk. These are the kids who too often join gangs and lead criminal and violent lives. These are the children who don't understand the consequences of their actions because their parents don't take the responsibility of teaching them.

These parents allow their children to rent R-rated videos or watch R-rated movies on cable. What makes us think they are going to be more responsible when it comes to TV shows?

The president's claim also presupposes that there will be a selection of shows or movies with different ratings to choose from. But consider what happened to the movie industry after ratings were introduced: Once Hollywood had license to create sexually explicit, violent, and/or vulgar movies, such films became the norm.

This is likely to happen in the broadcast and cable industries as well. We'll be offered a prime-time selection of R-rated sitcoms and dramas on network TV and will have to turn to the Learning Channel to find something the whole family can watch. TV ratings also will eliminate the need for ''edited for TV'' movies.

Too often it seems that violent, vulgar, or sexual content is added to a movie to get it a ''more marketable'' R rating. Moviemakers frequently claim that this content helps portray a more ''realistic'' picture. The fact remains, however, that countless Americans have made the choice that they will not view R-rated movies.

I, for one, look forward to seeing these movies in an edited form on TV. Because of the broadcast industry's higher moral standard, the sex, graphic violence, and vulgar profanities have been eliminated. If a TV-rating system is introduced, I will no longer be able to watch these movies because they will appear in their original unedited form.

Clinton also claims that the V-chip technology will allow us to ''hand the remote back to parents.'' Wrong again. The technology will work only if 1) every TV in a particular household has the chip, and 2) parents take the responsibility to use it correctly.

That takes us back to the children who are caught up in a life of crime and violence precisely because their parents don't take responsibility. Will a V-chip or a rating system change that? Sadly, the answer is no.

What about those parents who are willing to take responsibility for what their children watch? Will the V-chip help them by providing an automated tool to cancel out inappropriate programming?

For the V-chip to work, families must replace their current sets, or perhaps purchase third-party boxes that attach to the cable or antenna input of the TV. This solution discriminates against the poor - most low-income families won't be able to afford the expense. It also creates undue hardship for middle-income families trying to save for college educations and retirement and pay their mortgages.

Requiring families to replace their TV sets is unacceptable. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that even having a chip in every set will solve anything. VCRs don't have V-chips. What's to stop a child from taping a show and taking that tape to a friend's house where the TV is V-chipless? What's to stop a child from going to that friend's house and viewing the program to begin with?

The solution, then, is to make it illegal for networks and cable companies to broadcast sex, violence, and vulgarity in the first place. Laws are tangible evidences of the values of our society. If we as a society value traditional family morals, then our laws should reflect those values.

Opponents of such a solution will say it violates important freedoms. Yet I'm not suggesting we stop people from making violent, sexual, or vulgar movies. I believe in their right to do this. I do not, however, believe in their right to come into my home with their ''free speech.''

Society must create laws to protect its members from themselves and others. We outlaw drugs to protect ourselves from ourselves and one another. We outlaw prostitution to protect ourselves from ourselves. Movies and shows that contain sex, violence, and vulgarity are no less addictive. Let's stop the wholesale distribution of such programming by legislating against it.

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