NEW YORK — The television industry is exploring adding labels for sex, violence and strong language to its controversial new ratings system, according to executives involved in the discussions.
Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch favors incorporating the content labels for which critics have been clamoring, sources said Tuesday, even though his network carries some of the raciest and darkest shows on television. Some cable channels also support the idea.
If agreement cannot be reached among the networks, sources said, Murdoch could decide to separate himself from NBC, CBS and ABC, just as he announced last year that Fox would provide TV ratings before the other networks made public their intentions.
No formal proposal has been made to the industry committee that developed the TV ratings, and NBC, CBS and ABC are said to remain opposed to adding S, V and L labels to the age-based system that was launched Jan. 1.
But sources said that lobbyists from the industry recently met privately with key members of Congress to see what the lawmakers' response would be if the industry were to add labels for sex, violence and language to its existing system. Industry executives will confer soon on the issue, possibly next week.
The TV industry has been under pressure from Congress and children's advocacy organizations to give parents more information about programming content. The current system, based on the movie ratings, uses designations such as TV-PG and TV-14 to suggest that programs may not be appropriate for children of a certain age, but it doesn't give any indication as to why a more restrictive code was imposed.
Nine members of Congress testified against the industry's system at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee last month, and Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) has introduced a bill that would force the industry to provide content-based ratings or move violent programming to designated late-night hours when children would be less likely to see it.
The criticism comes as the TV networks are seeking congressional approval to gain free access to valuable digital channel space.
"We're going to have to do something to add more specific content information," one broadcast network executive said. "The question is, what can we do, and how?"
Jack Valenti, the chief architect of the industry's system, said in an interview that no one had come to him with a specific proposal for S, V and L labels, although the idea has been discussed within the industry.
"I'm not afraid of change," Valenti said, "but where is the public outcry? The polling we've done indicates that parents like the system we're offering."
While there is movement to satisfy the industry critics, some broadcast executives are opposed to giving in to what they see as government intrusion on their right of free speech.
"Some of our critics really don't want a ratings system--they want to change the content of television," one executive said. "What happens if we do S, V and L and that still doesn't satisfy them?"