Questioning Technology: The V-chip

The so-called V-chip, an electronic circuit that's supposed to block violent programs from your TV, is just another Trojan horse for the censorship of free speech. On the surface the technology appears to empower the viewer to control the types of television programming received in the home. But, in fact, it gives the federal government a say in what kinds of programs are made and aired on broadcast television. The proposal for the V-chip (the 'V' stands for violence) is part of the sweeping telecommunications legislation now winding through Congress. If enacted, it would require manufacturers to include a computer chip in every new TV set that allows the blocking of designated channels or programs. At the same time, broadcasters would develop rating codes -- similar to those used by the motion picture industry -- that would tag programs containing unsuitable content. These rating codes would then be embedded in the broadcast signal, triggering the V-chip to prevent the viewing of programs rated as violent, containing nudity, offensive language or anything else deemed as undesirable. The real agenda here is hidden in the fine print. The broadcast industry has one year to create the so-called "voluntary" ratings system for violent or objectionable programming. If the industry fails to satisfy the feds in this regard, then the law provides that a government commission be established to rate television programs. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going here. Of course, the television industry will never satisfy the government in voluntarily creating a ratings system that will reduce the audiences for its most popular programming. Why should anyone voluntarily give up their First Amendment rights? When this happens a dissatisfied government bureaucracy will eventually come in and rate the programs. That handwriting is already on the wall. This pathetic attempt at backdoor censorship might be laughable if it wasn't being taken so seriously. A parade of politicians, including Clinton himself, has endorsed the V-chip idea. In this era of shoot-from-the-hip sound bite politics, V-chip offers the illusion of giving parents more control over their TV sets while effectively masking the government's big brother role in the further chilling of free speech. If our President had wanted to offer real leadership on the issue of TV violence, he could have urged parents to deal with it in the simplest and most effective way possible. That is just turn the damn box off. Disconnect the cable and put the purveyors of sleaze out of business. Just say 'no' to the corporate media complex that dominates the culture and turns our kids into product junkies. A good dose of media literacy, rather than censorship, might help parents become more aware of what their kids are being fed everyday through the tube. Honest politicians might question the fundamentals of a corporate system that regularly spews a diet of violence in its own greedy self-interest. But don't expect such leadership from the corporate errand boys now running Congress and the White House. As with all new technology, the V-chip idea is not value-free. It has a bias and carries an inherent message. It has social and political implications. Its implementation would change power arrangements and force conformity. The danger here is to get caught up in the emotional debate about violence in the society and then be led to make a quick judgment that technology -- any technology -- is going to solve this problem. The deepening culture of violence in the United States was not caused by electronics nor will it be cured by electronics. Make no mistake about it, the V-chip is simply another far right shell game to censor free speech. It is the product of the same warped minds who would kill funding for the arts, humanities and education while spending $44 billion for B-2 bombers that don't even work. The V-chip is the work of cultural morons and deserves to be cut off at the knees.

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