V-chip is a generic term used for television receivers allowing the blocking of programs based on their ratings category. It is intended for use by parents to manage their children's television viewing. Most 13-inch and larger televisions manufactured for the United States market since 1999 and all units as of January 2000 are required to have the V-chip technology. Many devices similar to the V-chip have been produced.
The V-chip works much like closed captioning as it uses the vertical blanking interval in the television signal to send and receive a special code in the programming which indicates the show’s score according to a simple numerical rating system for violence, sex, and language. The programs' signals are encoded according to their rating, on line 21 of the broadcast signal's vertical blanking interval using the XDS protocol, and this is detected by the television set's V-chip. If the program's rating is outside the level configured as acceptable on that particular television, the program is blocked.
The V-chip has a 4 digit numerical password in order to keep older children from changing its settings. However, it can be overridden by anyone who read the television's manual to find out how to reset the password to 0000 (built into the V-chip in case the parents themselves forget the password that they set).
The phrase "V-chip" was purportedly coined by Representative Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts. According to him, the "V" stands for "violence". However, in an interview with Tim Collings, one of the people who claim to have invented the device, he says that it was intended to stand for "viewer control.
The Telecommunications Act
The V-chip was an added provision in President Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act
of 1996. “If every parent uses this chip wisely, it can become a powerful voice against teen violence, teen pregnancy, teen drug use, and for both learning and entertainment,” Clinton said during his speech as he signed the Telecommunications Act on February 8, 1996. “We’re handing the TV remote control back to America’s parents so that they can pass on their values and protect their children.” The addition of the V-chip into the Telecommunications Act was helpful to attract American voters for the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.
Invention and Patent
Tim Collings states he developed the V-chip technology while he was an engineering professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia; however, he did not obtain a patent on the technology. Two others separately patented devices similar or identical to the V-chip: John Olivo of Parental Guide of Omaha, and an Air Force captain by the name of Carl Elam. Collings, Olivo, and Elam all claim to have invented the technology.
Although there is much debate over who patented the V-chip, Wi-LAN of Ottawa is the current holder.
Criticisms of the V-chip
On April 25, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission
released a report entitled In the Matter of Violent Television Programming And Its Impact On Children
. The report discusses the low usage of V-chip technology. In its analysis, the report addresses the following studies:
According to a 2003 study, parents' low level of V-chip use is explained in part by their unawareness of the device and the “multi-step and often confusing process” necessary to use it. Only 27% of all
parents in the study group could figure out how to program the V-chip, and many parents “who might
otherwise have used the V-Chip [sic] were frustrated by an inability to get it to work properly.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a telephone survey in 2004 of 1,001 parents of children ages 2-17. The results of that survey showed that:
- 15% of all parents had used the V-chip
- 26% of all parents had not bought a new television set since January 2000, when the V-chip was first required in all televisions
- 39% of all parents had bought a new television set since January 2000, but did not think it even included a V-chip
- 20% of all parents knew they had a V-chip, but had not used it.
2007 Zogby poll indicated, among other things, that 88% of respondents did not use a V-chip or cable box parental controls in the previous week, leading the Parents Television Council to call the
television industry’s V-chip education campaign “a failure.”
First Amendment Violation
Television networks have argued that the use of the V-chip in blocking and/or censoring television programming is a violation of the First Amendment. Specifically, that the networks should not be told what is considered to be “too violent” or to be “too sexual”, for it is their artistic vision. They have also argued that the audience does not have to watch shows that they deem are “inappropriate.”
The networks feared that a single profanity would block an entire program. They also feared that they would lose advertising revenue because advertisers would not pay for time slots during programs that might be blocked.
Lack of Supporting Reseach
The American Civil Liberties Union argues that, “Research has not proven that watching violence on television causes watchers to commit violence” citing the Federal Trade Commission’s Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of the Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording, &” Electronic Game Industries
report in September 2001 as support. In ACLU’s website, ACLU quoted the FTC in saying that, “[m]ost researchers and investigators agree that exposure to media violence alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act, and that it is not the sole, or even the most important, factor in contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence.”
According to J.M. Balkin, author of Media Filters and the V-Chip, “[People] also want to filter out dangerous ideas and views they do not agree with or expressions that offend and anger them." There is also cultural and familial differences; an action, activity, or behavior may be deemed as “appropriate” for one culture or for one family but may very well be considered “inappropriate” for another culture or for another family. Balkin says some people believe that the use of the v-chip is a way for the government to 'intervene and impose binding moral standards' on others."
While the V-chip is fairly inexpensive to add to individual television
sets, a large amount of money has been spent educating people on the technology. $550 million was spent to educate parents on the V-chip, but they are no more aware of the technology or the ways in which it can be put to use now than they were before the funds were spent.
Infringement on Rights
The V-chip is criticized for being an infringement on basic human rights
. Many people argue that it is not the government’s right to monitor or censor what viewers watch on television. According to this argument, because the government regulates the rating system, it is also regulating much of parents' decision making processes on their children's viewing habits. Caroline Fredrickson, of the American Civil Liberties Union
, stated, “These FCC recommendations are political pandering. The government should not replace parents as decision makers in America’s living rooms. There are some things that the government does well. But deciding what is aired and when on television is not one of them.”
Insufficient Number of Users
Despite the amount that has been spent on educating parents on use of the V-chip, there is still a low proportion of users. Of parents who have access to the V-chip, just 15% actually use it. As reported in 2007, 39% of parents who had access to the V-chip were unaware of its existence, and 20% of parents who knew of the V-chip's existence opted not to try it. Tim Winters, the Executive director for the Parents Television Council
stated, “What I see is a solution that’s flawed at every level. Conceptually, it’s not bad, but practically, it’s abhorrent.”
Proponents of the V-Chip
While a lot of controversies had been sparked by the V-chip, what makes it different from other ideas is that the V-chip imposes no government constraints on television programming itself. When Congressman Ed Markey, chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, introduced the first V-chip legislation, he told the press that parents “will be given the power to send a message directly to the industry. The government will not be involved.”
While the FCC
research has shown low percentages in parental involvement in television viewing control,Television Watch
, a Charleston, South Carolina
-based organization advocating the use of parental controls like the V-chip, has consistently found otherwise in its research. They found in June 2007 that the majority of parents personally monitor their children's television viewing in some way, whether through use of the V-chip or other means. TV Watch has also found that most parents know that they have the option of the V-chip or other parental controls to monitor their children's television viewing, and believe it is primarily their responsibility, not that of the government, to protect children from inappropriate content on television.
In response to the Parents Television Council survey on the V-chip that claimed the device's failure, TV Watch maintains that the survey was "flawed by faulty analysis and biased methodology" . TV Watch also participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation forum in June 2007, based on recent Kaiser research, which claims that most parents do monitor their children's television viewing, whether or not by means of the V-chip.
As stated in an article in the Washington Times
from March 1998, the V-chip was envisioned to be inexpensive. The cost to install the V-chip into televisions that are not already equipped with it is between five and ten dollars. In addition, every television set with parameters of 13 inches or larger sold after the year 2000
is required to have a V-chip pre-installed. Therefore, some say the cost is insignificant when purchasing a television.
Ease of Monitoring for Parents
Created by the United States Ad Council
, TheTVBoss.org is a user-friendly web site that helps parents explore options for controlling their children's viewing patterns. As an advocate for the V-chip, the site advises parents to “Control your child’s viewing with the V-chip. The V-chip is installed in most televisions and it allows you to block programs and channels you think are inappropriate- great for times when you can’t monitor TV viewing.” In a section entitled, “Activating your V-Chip is Easy,” the site directs viewers through the standard process of activating the V-chip.
Support from PTA groups
"America's families will be now the ultimate judges of [the new ratings system's] effectiveness,"
said Lois Joan White, Parent-Teacher Association
president, in 1997 in support of V-chip technology. The V-chip is also supported by other websites like FamilySafeMedia.com,
which presents technologies like the Weemote
and TVGuardian as alternatives to the V-chip. FamilySafeMedia calls itself “dedicated to providing the latest products and services that can help parents bring safe media into their homes."