Deciphering the V-chip: An examination of the television industry's program rating judgments

Dale Kunkel, Wendy Jo Maynard Farinola, Kirstie Farrar, Edward Donnerstein, Erica Biely, Lara Zwarun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This study investigated the validity of the television industry's labeling of sensitive program content following the advent of The V-chip television ratings system. The analysis is based on a large program sample gathered from 10 of the most frequently viewed channels including broadcast network, independent broadcast, basic cable, and premium cable channels. Programs were examined for the nature and extent of portrayals of violence, sexual behavior and dialogue, and adult language. The content-based findings were then compared to the ratings applied to the program to evaluate the accuracy of the rating judgments. The study found that the age-based ratings (TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA) reasonably reflect the content of programs, but that content descriptors (V, S, D, and L) are not being used on the vast majority of programs containing violence, sexual behavior or dialogue, and adult language. The study also shows that children's programs contain a significant amount of violence, most of which is not identified by the applicable FV (fantasy violence) content descriptor: The findings suggest there are substantial limitations in the ability of the V-chip technology to effectively limit children's exposure to most forms of sensitive content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-138
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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