Piling onto the decency bandwagon, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) joined her Senate colleagues Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) last Wednesday in demanding the creation of a uniform ratings system for video games, television and other forms of entertainment children may be exposed to. The senators cited studies indicating that children who are exposed to graphic images of violence and sex display more aggressive behavior in their daily lives. Instead of demanding more stifling government controls, legislators should allow the entertainment industry to police itself. The current industry-regulated system is sufficient; a government system would curtail free speech rights.
The movie industry polices itself through the Motion Picture Association of America, which views a movie and assigns a rating ranging between “G” — general audience — and to “NC-17” — no one under 17 admitted. While the music industry has no rating system, it indicates on the front and/or back of CDs which albums contain “explicit lyrics” that may not be suitable for young children. The video game industry polices itself with ratings along the same lines as the film industry. Its ratings range from “E” — games suitable for all ages — to “MA” — mature audiences only. Even television broadcasts are assigned ratings, such as “TV 14,” or suitable for children above 14 years of age.
The senators advocating a uniform rating system have argued that the variety of ratings is too fractured to be effective — each industry has a different opinion of what is suitable for each age group. However, aside from simply providing a rating, most of the organizations responsible for ratings also provide explanations: “simulated life-like violence” for adult video games, “crude language” for rated-R movies or “S” — sexuality — for a television shows targeted at older teenagers and adults. These additional bits of information are as readily available as the ratings — they are typically listed in the same box or paragraph as the rating they are explaining. When supplied not only with a rating, but also with an explanation of the rating, a conscientious parent can easily make a properly informed decision for his child. There is little need for a standardized government system.
By putting the government in charge of rating standards, political maneuvers could end up limiting free speech and expression. As the political climate in Washington changes, so too could the rating system. Even if the first rating system is moderate, there is no guarantee that future guidelines would not be more restrictive — seriously curtailing freedoms of speech. The First Amendment should not be subject to the changing political climate.
Ultimately, the responsibility for parenting must be left up to parents. While the senators in favor of this bill might feel they are enabling parents to be responsible, they are attempting to address a problem that simply does not exist. The current rating systems are sufficient, and government-controlled national rating standards would only serve to limit free speech.