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CENSORSHIP  & THE V-CHIP

 

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ELECTRONIC PARENTING

 

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Have you noticed how kids as young as two and three seem to know their way around TVs, VCRs and satellite receivers, without ever having to consult instruction books? Genetics, a shared consciousness, who knows, but one thingís for sure kids are cunning, devious little blighters and youíve got to stay at least one step ahead of them, if you want to control what they watch on TV.

 

A lot of video components now have parental locks, that inhibit various vital functions. The level of security varies widely, from really quite good to an absolute pushover, but they all have one thing in common, they only work if you use them! Itís no good reprimanding your kids if you donít bother to lock out saucy foreign channels on the satellite receiver, leave viewing cards for triple X rated smut channels in the slot, or a naughty tape in the VCR. However, even if you do enable the security features on your VCR or satellite box, donít forget to hide the instruction books, which invariably contain everything a junior hacker needs to know.

 

Few TVs have any security features, though hiding the remote control handset can be quite effective. Around three quarters of all VCRs and virtually all satellite receivers have some form of parental control. The most rudimentary ones simply disable the remote and front-panel controls, often by a simple combination of button presses, or holding down a particular button on the remote for more than a few seconds.

 

More sophisticated systems require a three or four digit PIN code; they can be fairly secure, provided theyíre used properly. Remember to change the PIN code from the factory default -- itís usually set to something really obvious like Ď0000í or Ď1234í -- and donít write it down in the instruction book or anywhere it can be found. Some instruction books also contain unlock codes -- if case you forget the PIN -- or details of how to defeat or reset the lock, so donít leave them lying around. PIN coded equipment is normally totally reliant on the remote handset, which has the numerical keypad, so as a second line of defence against really smart kids you could always conceal the button-box as well.

 

Whilst a complete lockout is undoubtedly effective, itís a bit of a sledgehammer approach; some satellite receivers have the facility to restrict access to certain channels instead, so it can still be used. Unfortunately this can be quite complicated to set up and you have to make sure it also disables manual tuning operations as well. If your receiver doesnít have any channel restrictions simply wipe the offending stations from the tuner memory; well, itís worth a try and it might confuse some under tens for a while...

 

If your VCR or satellite receiver has no security features at all there are several simple techniques you can use to disable video equipment, though be warned, youíll probably only get away with it once or twice. Tell the kids you have to use the VCR to make an important time-shift recording whilst youíre out.  Remove or loosen the satellite dish input connector, so that the picture disappears. You can effectively isolate VCRs and satellite receivers by plugging their aerial leads together, though if the equipment uses AV leads as well, they will have to be removed too. Removing the BSKYB viewing card from a satellite receiver doesnít achieve much though, as many of the foreign channels carrying soft-core porn are unscrambled.

 

Several months ago you might recall there was quite a few stories in the press and on TV about the so-called ĎV-Chipí. The idea is that the TVs equipped with A V-chip, can restrict access to various types of material. At the time it was suggested that V-chipped TVs could be in the shops within a year or two. Since then everything has gone rather quiet.

 

V-Chip hasnít quite disappeared -- trials are currently underway in the US and Canada -- but the initial enthusiasm here wore off quickly. Broadcasters would have to transmit codes, that tell a V-chipped TV which category of programme it is receiving and whether or not it can be displayed. Clearly this will only work if all broadcasters -- including foreign satellite channels receivable in the UK -- adopt the same system, and that seems highly unlikely at the moment. Whilst it is theoretically possible for the Government to introduce legislation, making V-Chip or a similar technology compulsory on new products, it would have no effect on existing equipment, and it would take years for it to have any impact. Donít hold your breath...

 

In the end itís not fair or sensible to expect technology to oversee our childrenís viewing habits. It remains a parentís responsibility, thatís how it should be, and itís one we abdicate at our peril!

 

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” R. Maybury 1996 2811

 

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