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Q&A With President Clinton : 'The V-Chip May Simply Give Viewers Another Way to Vote'

March 02, 1996|Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus interviewed President Clinton after Thursday's historic summit with executives from the entertainment industry to announce that a ratings system will be instituted for virtually all television programming. Here is the interview, portions of which appeared in Friday's Times

Question: Ted Turner warned that the adoption of the V-chip and a ratings system is going to cost the entertainment industry some money. Do you think he's right about that? And in any event, is it a good trade-off for that industry as well as for the country?

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Answer: Well, I don't know whether he's right or not. I think it is definitely a good trade-off because it's an historic new compact between the entertainment industry, all the players involved in television, and the parents and the families of America. And all the government did was act as a catalyst by getting the V-chip into the telecommunications bill and then to bring these people together.

I was really impressed that they all came, that all these entities were represented at the highest level. And what I think will happen is that it will cost the industry a significant amount of money, I think, just to figure out how to implement this rating system. It's far more complex than movies just because there are just so many more--first of all, just the sheer volume and the diversity of programming will mean it's a more complex problem. So it will cost a lot of money to go through a legitimate process, set it up and implement it and then disseminate it.

After that, I'm not so sure it will cost them a lot of money. I think what will happen is the V-chip may simply give viewers another way to vote. In some ways, it will be more accurate than the Nielsen ratings. And not every intelligent program succeeds even now. Not every violent television program succeeds even now. And certainly not every children's television program succeeds now. So what I think will happen is that the V-chip will be another indicator of where the public is. And I think they'll respond to that.

Over the long run, I'll be quite surprised if it does cost them any long-term profits, as opposed to the front-end cost of setting up the system and whatever the cost of maintaining it is, because if the viewers vote with the V-chip the way the Nielsen ratings and other indices drive programming today, it will change the programming, hopefully for the better. But it won't have anything to do with long-term profitability, I wouldn't think.

Q: What kind of a role do you foresee for yourself, for the White House, in monitoring the implementation of this system and making sure it's done right?

A: Well, the first thing I think is that the government should not be involved in the process by which the system is developed and then implemented. Just like we're not involved in the movie ratings. I don't believe we should be involved.

I think the industry, if you look at the movie ratings or even if you look at the advisories that we see now on television before certain programs, I think it's clear that once the industry decides to do this and hold itself publicly accountable, that there's a very high probability that a good job will be done on this.

What I think I can do is to, first of all, receive the results of their efforts since they sort of kicked it off here. If they'd like to come back, I invited them to come back and make a report to me and to bring in the members of the Congress, and I'm trying to keep this in a very nonpolitical way.

So one of the things we might be able to do is to highlight the work once it's done, to emphasize it, and then to make sure that we do everything we can to explain to people how the V-chip works and how they should access it as they buy new televisions. And for those who do not have the V-chip--and for several years there will be millions of Americans who won't have it--to encourage them still to become familiar with the rating system and to use it at home anyway.

Q: Is there a place for jawboning or exhortation about overall quality in programming?

A: Well, I think that's the next follow-up. The V-chip gives parents the right to keep bad things from happening. It's an elimination tool. We also take the Children's Television Act mandate very seriously, and that was sort of the second part of our discussion today. So, in addition to following up in the way I just described on the V-chip--because that's mostly for the industry to do--we will continue to work with them to try to implement the spirit as well as the letter of the Children's Television Act to try to improve both the quality and the quantity of children's programming, again in ways that won't hurt them financially.

So that's the other affirmative obligation I think we have to keep pushing for appropriate quantities and qualities of programming for children. I don't have any specific mandates.

Q: But in terms of adult programming, do you see a need to. . . ?

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