COMMENTARY

Reforms for Rating Media: Disclosure, Not Censorship

Kimberly M. Thompson, ScD

Disclosures

November 05, 2007

 


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Two years after my last editorial on kids and media,[1] I unfortunately see little progress in reforming rating systems for media. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently announced that it would expand its consideration of smoking as a factor in rating films.[2] Unfortunately, this promises little for parents who care about smoking in all films, not just the films for which the smoking is notable enough relative to all of the other content to drive the film's rating. Why not identify labels to apply to all films as to their depiction of smoking and focus on complete disclosure? And why stop at smoking? Shouldn't we also care about drugs and alcohol depiction and messages about violence and sex?

If we expect parents to make informed choices, then providing them with the best possible information just makes sense. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigns content descriptors to provide parents with information about content in video games, but unfortunately these content descriptors still lack standardization and transparency. Television and cable programming continue to use their own symbols to indicate different categories of content, which similarly lack standardization and transparency. It's time to try out the idea of a standardized media product label, analogous to food labels that consumers currently rely on for nutritional information, with the clear goal of disclosure. The people who make the products (ie, media producers) need to provide clear and standardized information about what is in their products to consumers.

Disclosure is not censorship, and standardization is possible for media content in the same way that it is possible to report food nutrients. We need to take reforms of media ratings seriously.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Kimberly Thompson, Associate Professor and Director of the Kids Risk Project at the Harvard School of Public Health.

 


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