Two leading media violence researchers are asking the cable industry to adopt the Dutch system of entirely age-based ratings for TV content to curb aggression in young people.
The researchers — Brad J. Bushman and Daniel Romer — note that “media ratings have two primary purposes: inform parents and protect children” in a May 30 letter to the president of The internet and Television Association, which oversees the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board.
“The current ratings system used in the U.S. does a poor job on both,” said Mr. Bushman, a communications professor at The Ohio State University.
Mr. Bushman and Mr. Romer, research director for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, urge adopting the system that’s been used in the Netherlands since 2001 called Kijkwijzer.
Unlike the U.S. system, which uses a combination of letters and numbers for age and content, the Dutch system assigns ages for all media content, from television to movies to video games. Moreover, Kijkwijzer relies on images — such as a syringe signifying drug use and a spider signifying scary content — that people using different languages can comprehend.
“They’re very easy to understand,” said Mr. Bushman, noting that the Dutch system is not managed by the industry, as it is in the U.S. “The ratings are assigned by child development experts rather than the industry, which is great. Our U.S. system is [like] having the fox guard the chickens.”
Mr. Bushman and Mr. Romer were among a dozen researchers who issued a congressionally commissioned report on links between violent media and youth aggression in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
Their letter comes after the Federal Communications Commission sounded the alarm last month on the guidelines board in its first congressionally mandated oversight report in more than 20 years.
The FCC’s report found rampant inconsistencies in the board and its guidelines, such as the prime-time occult crime procedural “Medium” receiving a TV-14 (suitable for viewers 14 and up) rating on NBC but a TV-PG (suitable for viewers 7 and up) rating on CBS. Federal officials also noted a lax attitude about transparency within the 24-member board.
But the FCC stopped short of finding inappropriate ratings for shows, saying the 90 days it was given by Congress for its review was not enough time to draw conclusions. The report encouraged the board hold open meetings and more regularly review programming.
Under congressional pressure in the mid-1990s, the entertainment industry established the self-regulatory board, which rates age-appropriate television content, including sexuality and violence.
A spokesman for The internet and Television Association declined to respond to a request for comment and directed inquiries to the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board.
Mr. Bushman said that adopting the Dutch ratings system isn’t a fail-safe way to prevent the next school shooting.
“It’s hard to compare countries because there are so many differences between the Netherlands and the U.S.,” he said. “But their system is wonderful. They even have a child’s version of the news that is not graphic. It explains what’s going on in the world that is not frightening and disturbing for the children.”
Mr. Bushman noted the U.S. language-based system has confused some parents, who have misunderstood the acronyms. For example, “FV” stands for “Fantasy, Violence,” but some parents have reported understanding the letters to mean “Family Viewing,” Mr. Bushman said.
“It’s alphabet soup in the U.S.,” he said. “Everybody understands 13-plus means ages 13 and up. Sixteen-plus means ages 16 and up.”
Previous research has suggested links between aggression in youth and media content. Specifically, a 2012 study conducted by Mr. Bushman found that 460 children from 7 to 11 years old saw a decrease in the likelihood of engaging in a fight from 44 to 35% if the child’s parent or guardian controlled the amount and type of media consumption.