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A CHIP AND THE OLD BLOCK

 

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Sex, violence and bad language on TV have raised understandable concerns amongst parents and consumer groups but now it looks as though technology might have a solution. Rick Maybury reports on the development of the V-Chip

 

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Censorship and public concerns about the effects that scenes of sex and violence on TV and video may have on young children are now being addressed by the consumer electronics industry and broadcasters. Trials of TVs and VCRs fitted with a so-called V-Chip, manufactured by Motorola and Zilog, are now underway in the United States and Canada, following recent legislation.

 

The V stands for violence, and products fitted with this chip, and its associated control circuitry, can be programmed by worried parents to switch off or restrict access to particular programmes. The chip is activated by signals sent by broadcasters, to flag programmes containing sensitive material. In the United States V-Chip equipped TVs present the viewer with a series of on-screen display menu options, for editing programmes by time slot or content. This includes categories covering bad language, sex and violence. The Canadian system has an additional facility to cut out single segments within a programme, though this is dependent on broadcasters making the extra effort to label each scene.

 

V-Chip now has a European dimension, following the publication of an amendment to a European Parliament directive -- Television Without Frontiers -- which could compel TV and VCR manufacturers to develop electronic censorship systems. Within the past month the Department of National Heritage has been in contact with the British Radio and Electronics Manufacturers Association (BREMA), to gauge opinion on the matter.

 

Whilst discussions are still at a very early stage it has been suggested that UK or European systems would utilise teletext type control signals, possibly based around the programme delivery control (PDC) chips, now fitted to most new VCRs. According to one BREMA source this would add comparatively little to the cost of a TV or VCR, many of which are already equipped with teletext facilities. The timescale for the implementation of any V-Chip type system is entirely dependent on legislation. Such a proposal would undoubtedly be broadly welcomed by all shades of political opinion -- it might even be considered a vote winner in some quarters  -- but in any event is seems unlikely that it would encounter any serious opposition. The wider issues of censorship are unlikely to pose any difficulties as the ultimate control of the equipment rests with the viewer, moreover older televisions and video recorders -- without V-Chips -- would not be affected.  

 

The necessary laws compelling manufacturers to fit the technology to all new products could be enacted quite quickly, possibly within a couple of years. Industry sources weve spoken to have suggested that much of the technology already exists and would require minimal development to adapt it for consumer use. If the will exists a system could, in theory at least, be up and running within the next two to five years.  

 

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R. Maybury 1996 0403

 

 

 

 

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