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U.S. watchdog group calls for new TV, movie rating system

By Patrica Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Parents Television Council called for an overhaul of the U.S. ratings system used in television and films on Wednesday, saying it does not accurately and consistently reflect violence in the media.

The watchdog group said a year after Vice President Joe Biden led a task force and met with entertainment industry executives about gun violence following the killing of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, nothing has been done to reduce media violence.

"We want a wholesale reform of the content ratings systems. Right now you have a system in which the industry rates its own content for age," said Tim Winter, the president of the Los Angeles-based council.

"There is an inherent financial conflict of interest in that they are motivated to rate material that is inappropriate for children as appropriate because advertisers are more likely to sponsor it," he added in an interview.

The situation in film is not much better, Winter added, because people go to more PG-13 movies than to R-rated movies, so a PG-13 rating is more financially profitable.

He cited research that showed PG-13 rated films - movies that suggest parental guidance because some material may be inappropriate for viewing by children under 13 - contain as much violence as more adult R-rated films.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) established the Classification and Rating Administration that provides information to parents about the suitability of films for their children.

The G rating is for general audience. PG suggests parental guidance and a PG-13 is a sterner warning. An R rating is restricted and anyone under 17 years old must be accompanied by a parent or an adult guardian. No one under 17 is admitted in a NC-17 film.

For television, a TV-14 rating is for a program requiring parental guidance and TV-MA is for mature audiences only.

RESPONSIBLE VIEWING DECISIONS

Missi Tessier, a spokeswoman for the executive secretariat of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, said the TV ratings system is a valuable resource for parents and helps them make responsible viewing decisions.

"The industry regularly reviews the TV ratings to ensure they continue to be useful to parents," she added.

The MPAA had no comment on the proposed overhaul.

Winter said the system must be accurate, consistent, transparent and publicly accountable for it to work.

The Parents Television Council cited research from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University that found gun violence in top-grossing PG-13 films has more than tripled since 1985, and exceeded gun violence in top grossing R-rated movies in 2012.

In its own study comparing cable and broadcast shows, the council said rape, graphic killings, mutilation, cannibalism, dismemberment, beatings and guns were shown in TV-14 rated primetime broadcast TV shows but did not warn parents of the graphic violence.

"What you see as graphic violence on cable is virtually indistinguishable from the violence you now see on broadcast television," said Winter.

"What was interesting is that the cable networks rated it uniformly as TV-MA, meaning mature audience only. That same type of content was rated 100 percent as TV-14, meaning it is appropriate for a 14-year-old child on the broadcast networks," he added.

The council also wants parents to have a voice in the debate about ratings and said the public should be able to appeal ratings they think are too low.

(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Shumaker)

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