Parents continue to struggle nightly with the torrent of trash on the TV screen, and the executives at the top of the trash heap have come to Washington and tried to suggest they have found the magic pill that cures it all. It is the V-chip, they proclaim, mandated in every new television set to aid the parent in blocking out programming that's too sexual, too violent or too crude in its language.
ABC President Alex Wallau told Congress that "ABC believes strongly that we have a responsibility to enable our viewers to make informed choices about the programs they watch and those their children watch. The V-chip can play a critical role in these choices."
The V-chip is touted by Hollywood as such a panacea that NBC has told the FCC it has no need to enforce anti-indecency regulations anymore, given that viewers have the option of using the V-chip to block channels they don't want coming into their homes. Who needs Washington to get involved when you have this trusty gadget, the Ronco Raunch Remover at your fingertips to handle those pesky shows?
If it sounds too simple and obvious -- it is. The argument sinks faster than the Titanic when subjected to scrutiny. For starters, most parents have no idea how this V-chip works or know that their TV set even contains one. A survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that only 15 percent of parents they surveyed have used the V-chip. Many of the survey's respondents (39 percent) didn't realize that their new TV sets were equipped with a V-chip, while others (20 percent) knew they had a V-chip but haven't used it.
More important, however, is what the industry knows but isn't saying: The V-chip is worthless. Even if parents know how to use it, for the V-chip to be effective in blocking programming, it needs to identify the content descriptors listed at the beginning of the program -- such as "V" for violence, "L" for harsh language, "S" for sexual material and "D" for sexual dialogue.
NBC and NBC-owned cable channels have never put these warning letters on their screen so that parents could block a thing. Thus, NBC's present position -- who needs decency standards when we have the V-chip? -- is beyond ironic. It deserves some sort of prize for intellectual dishonesty. Just how disingenuous is NBC? The Peacock Network airs a brief public-service announcement starring actress Mariska Hargitay ("Law and Order: Special Victims Unit") urging parents: "If you're blushing, maybe they shouldn't be watching. Keep an eye on what your kids watch on TV." They don't say: especially since NBC has no intention of blocking offensive programs.