In the US a new `chip' will allow parents to censor TV. Could it work h ere?

What is a V-chip?

Short for Violence Chip, this tiny gadget sits inside a TV set and censors programmes by reading their classification code.

Nifty idea.

Yes, it was invented by Professor Tim Collings of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and costs about 60p to fit when the television is being made. The broadcasting industry in Canada is developing a voluntary classification system in conjunction with the chip with the aim of controlling violence in children's programmes such as Mighty Morph.

Is it spreading ?

A mandatory system may soon be in place in the US. President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Bill this month, which means that from 1998 all new TV sets with a screen size of 13 inches or more sold in America will have to have a V-chip. The only thing which could stop the measure now is a constitutional challenge by civil liberties groups - and this is thought unlikely.

Clinton's move is in response to a widespread view in the US that the copious sex and violence on TV are the major reason for the high levels of crime, family breakdown and the perceived decay of American society. According to campaigners for the chip, by the age of 10 the average American child has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television.

So is the V-chip coming over here?

Perhaps. This month the European parliament voted overwhelmingly for the compulsory insertion of V-chips into every new TV set sold in Europe under the Television Without Frontiers directive.

How would it work?

According to amendments proposed by the European Parliament, every programme in Europe would be given a code which could be read by the V-chip, which censors material according to four categories: violence, sex, bad language or an age classification similar to that used for cinema films. This code would be transmitted as a signal along with each programme, and picked up by the V-chip.

Every category could have a rating of one to five, with five the most liberal and one the most restrictive. Parents could instruct the V-chip inside their television to refuse all programmes with a violence level above, say, two, or a sex level above, say, five. When a programme exceeding that level was transmitted, a warning would appear on the TV screen obliterating the picture and switching channels.

What is the drawback?

Civil liberties groups fear it could be sued to censor other programmes. Article 19, the international anti-censorship body, worries that such a measure in Europe would allow countries with repressive regimes to censor any TV programme on satellite which comes over their borders.

But there isn't much protection against kids watching violence, is there?

Not a huge amount. The Independent Television Commission relies on the 9pm watershed, which came into being in about 1960. Nothing unsuitable for children should be shown before 9pm, although throughout the evening programmes gradually become more "suitable" for adults. Film and videos are more closely regulated by being coded according to age by the British Board of Film Classification - this started in 1912, although videos have only been classified since 1984.

Broadcast warnings of adult material, possibly in the form of symbols in listings pages, are favoured by 94 per cent of people, according to research published in December by the Broadcasting Standards Council. Of those, 77 per cent thought rape scenes and "distressing scenes about children" might require a warning, violence was cited by 74 per cent, "extreme sex" by 71 per cent and bad language by 65 per cent. The BBC's new 10-year charter, to start in April, also has a new "taste and decency" clause, which legally obliges the BBC's board of governors to act as watchdogs on bad language, gratuitous violence or explicit sex.

And what do the broadcasters think?

They have reacted surprisingly tamely. The official line of the BBC, which lobbied strongly against the new taste and decency clause, is that it is "watching events with interest". Granada is more strongly against the notion: a V-chip would play havoc the audience guarantees it gives to advertisers. The ITV Association also points out the numerous difficulties it could cause, not least to the BBC. "What's to say someone couldn't V-chip out every programme put out by the BBC and then argue they shouldn't have to pay the licence fee?" asks Ross Biggam, an ITVA European Affairs executive.

There are technical difficulties, too?

If the European Parliament makes it law, the idea is that a European- wide body would set the European standard for each tolerance level. The problem is that the 15 member states are highly unlikely to agree on what constitutes a dangerous level of sex or violence. What might offend an Irish housewife is unlikely to shock a Danish student.

Even if the standards could be set on a national rather than a European basis, who would do it? Would it be for the regulators, the government, the broadcasters, or a quango? How would they agree? It's fraught with difficulty.

And there are all sorts of other problems?

Yes, one is that, if the V-chip becomes mandatory, its effects will not be felt for years - the average life-cycle of a television set is some two decades, so it would be a slow business making the V-chip widely accessible.Mr Biggam of the ITVA points out it would be unfair on homes without children. They would have to fork out - admittedly perhaps not that much - for more expensive TV sets. "It's similar to making everyone fit a child's seat belt: a good idea if you have a young child, but fairly pointless for everyone else," Mr Biggam says.

The point is, will it save the moral health of our kids?

Well, possibly, possibly not. Research shows that when parents buy new TV sets they tend to sling their old ones into their children's bedrooms. In other words, all the V-chipped sets will be in the sitting room and the uncensored ones will be exactly where they shouldn't be.

Kids are also highly computer-literate. Even if you censor television watching, the real bogey has arguably become the Internet, which proffers mind-boggling levels of porn for anyone who cares to browse its "newsgroups" or the World Wide Web.

It is also worth remembering that a comprehensive study published in August by Sheffield University (on behalf of the ITC and BBC) found that violence accounted for just one per cent of airtime on terrestrial and satellite television in Britain, and that incidents of violence on the four terrestrial channels had nearly halved since 1986.

Research also shows that people are often most upset by the violence shown on the news, because they are less able to stand back from it. If this is censored by parents too, what implications would that have for TV's important role in educating children about international affairs?

Sounds like any move to introduce it here would provoke a lot of controversy?

Yes. But it is unlikely to come to this country in the near future as a result of the European initiative, which is likely to get lost in lots of horse trading. It has come about in the US because of the power of the American moral right. Unlike many European countries, America's televisual output is almost entirely unregulated. So the argument for a V-chip is stronger. It is undoubtedly going to happen over there: the four big TV networks - ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox - are finalising a common system of classification for their programmes and are due to present it to Clinton at a "TV summit" on Thursday.

Sources for graphic information: Business Development Partnership 1995, Broadcasting Standards Council 1995. Research: Ben Summers. Graphic: Mark Hayman

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn