Commission reports to Congress on kids, content and protection

The Federal Communications Commission told Congress in a report released Monday that it intends to issue a Further Notice of Inquiry to examine issues related to protecting children and give parents greater control over the digital media entering their homes.

The report, submitted to Congress to comply with the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007, assesses the state of the marketplace for advanced technologies to block unwanted media, ways to encourage development and use of blocking technologies and the existence of tools to put more control in the hands of parents.

The 89-page report covers a broad range of topics, including television, video games and the Internet. As relates to TV, it examines possible ways to improve the V-chip, MVPD parental controls and controls for other devices that give parents control over TV content, such as TiVo’s KidZone.

The report to Congress drew on a variety of sources submitting comments to the commission. Those in favor of modifying the V-chip pointed out that efforts should center on improving the rating system for television programs.

“The V-chip’s effectiveness depends on accurate program ratings,” the report said.

According to commenters holding this view, new descriptors broadening the type of content filtered as well as taking steps to ensure V-chip technology can recognize various independent ratings systems would be improvements. Such steps would require help from broadcasters, ratings services and standards-setting groups, the report said.

Those opposed to making changes to the V-chip argued that making changes at this point is unwarranted because of the ongoing migration from broadcast to MVPDs and the Internet.

Closely related to the V-chip is the public’s recognition and understanding of the guidelines the broadcast, cable and movie industries have developed to notify parents about the nature of televised content. The report quoted a 2007 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation finding a general lack of awareness among parents about the rating system. For example, it found only 30 percent of parents with two- to six-year-old children could name any of the ratings used for children’s programs. It also quoted a Zogby study done for the Parents Television Council that revealed that only 8 percent could correctly identify all of the program descriptors.

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association and the Motion Picture Association of America, programmers have increased the size and frequency of descriptors, the report said. However, family advocacy commenters said V-chip technology is failing to deliver on its full potential because parents generally are unaware or ill-informed about the guidelines and because the industry has failed to use the descriptors in some instances.