Despite strong concern about children's exposure to sex and violence on television, parents remain split about how to approach the problem, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation released Tuesday.
The study concludes that while a majority of parents rely on content-based TV ratings to help them decide what programs their minor children can watch, 40% believe the ratings applied by the networks are inaccurate, and only 7% of parents are using V-chip technology to help block out programs with objectionable content.
The survey of parental attitudes--the fifth such study by Kaiser, a nonprofit group based in Menlo Park, Calif.--comes as a U.S. Senate committee begins hearings today to evaluate the entertainment industry's ratings systems.
The focus was on parents, their use of ratings to guide their children and the V-chip, a mechanism sold in televisions since 1999 that allows parents to block individual shows.
Findings appear to cast uncertainty about the effectiveness and future of that technology. The study found that of the parents who owned a TV with the V-chip, 53% were unaware of its presence, while nearly two-thirds of those who were aware did not use it.
By contrast, 56% of all parents surveyed said they used the TV ratings system. And though 92% believed them to be useful, two in five said they were inaccurate indicators of a show's content.
Parents are largely unaware of the V-chip because there has been no organized movement to inform them, said Victoria Rideout, vice president of the foundation and director of its Program for the Study of Entertainment Media, noting that "no one stands to profit from it and from marketing it."
"This says to me that at this point the V-chip is just not a factor overall and that the TV ratings seem to be more useful," she said.
More than 80% of the survey's 800 participants said they were concerned about their children's overexposure to sex and violence--while 63% and 59% said they were concerned "a great deal" about sexual and violent content, respectively.
Parents' response to who should take responsibility for controlling the content was mixed. When asked whether there "should be new government regulations to limit the amount" of violence and sex on television, 48% of parents favored such a proposal while 47% opposed such intervention.
"It's very clear that parents are concerned about media content," Rideout said. "They are just divided about what to do."
Should Government Regulate the Industry?
For advocates of increased regulation, the numbers are reassuring. According to Mark Honig, executive director of the L.A.-based Parents Television Council, a conservative organization lobbying for the reinstatement of family programming in the early prime-time hour, the V-chip's ineffectiveness and the perceived inaccuracy of ratings indicates that parents believe the content of programming is at fault.
The advent of TV ratings, he claims, has shielded the "unintended consequences" of increased vulgarity and violence on television, which is the issue at stake.
"I think that there is a lot of support for regulations," he said. The split among parents exists because "most believe the industry can and should regulate itself, and they don't want George Bush or Tom Daschle deciding what is inappropriate programming."