Canada to Join US in TV-Rating System

TELEVISION doesn't respect national borders. When Bugs Bunny is broadcast bopping Daffy Duck over the head in Buffalo, N.Y., kids in Toronto can watch.

This week, the Canadians signaled they'd like to join with the United States in wrestling with the enduring problem of violence on TV.

They proposed setting up a compatible rating system with the United States to give parents on both sides of the border the same guide to TV's daily menu of murder and mayhem.

"We told them we were a long way from any kind of an architecture on our own, but we would consult with them and be in touch," says Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Mr. Valenti is heading up a panel of entertainment-industry executives who are charged with developing a television-rating system for the US by January 1997.

The group is a product of the TV industry's sudden decision in February to stop fighting a rating system and join together to create one. The abrupt turnaround came in response to the Telecommunications Reform Act passed by Congress in January. It urges the industry to come up with a "voluntary" rating system or face one devised by the government.

The 26-member "implementation group" has now begun the task of figuring out how to administer the hundreds of thousands of hours of TV programming produced each year. "The most difficult problem is to figure out is how many categories and what they should be and then the dissemination of them," Valenti says.

On Tuesday, the panel heard from the Canadian cable and broadcast industry, which already has a pilot ratings system up and running in the Toronto area. The program has proved so successful, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission has given the TV industry until September to install a similar system nationwide.

The pilot program rates shows on four categories that indicate the type of audience for which the program is appropriate, the level of violence, the amount of sex, and the nature of the explicit language in the program. Each category is rated on a 0-to-5 scale.

THE US television executives had originally said they'd use the MPAA's movie-rating system as a guide. But they are hoping to use the Canadian system as a model.

"As a parent, I don't feel I'm getting enough warning about violence and some of the really scary scenes that are in some of these G-rated movies," says Jacqueline Sears, the founder of Mothers Offended by the Media (MOM), a grass-roots group that is pushing for a separate movie category for preschoolers.

Other critics agree. They're also urging the TV executives to turn to experts in child development before any final decisions are made.

"I think the Motion Picture Association wants to do a minimum to restrict anyone, because it means money," says Alvin Poussaint, director of the Media Center at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston.

Valenti says the implementation board will listen to all suggestions, but he is adamant that the industry should develop the final system.

"We want to get better information to parents so the parents can better supervise their children, not some unseen, unknown psychologist," Valenti says.

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