TV Rating System Building Citizenship on the Small Screen



Department of Justice, Classification, Titles and Qualification of the Ministry of Justice

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In the first half of 2006, the brazilian organization ANDI – Comunicação e Direitos (ANDI – Comunication and Rights), through an agreement signed with the Department of Justice, Ratings, Titles, and Qualification of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, prepared an extensive analysis on the various questions related to the TV ratings advisory process for audiovisual content.

Published in printed form in three languages (Portuguese, English, and Spanish) – to reflect the incorporation of Save the Children Sweden and the Avina Foundation to the initiative – the study is intended to contribute to the public debate in Brazil and other countries on this most important issue.

In the pages that follow, key aspects of the public policies governing the TV Rating System are examined. Additionally, the analysis looks at how the issue has been addressed in several countries. Lastly, we propose a redesigned Brazilian TV Ratings System based on the results and conclusions drawn from the study.

The rights of children and adolescents, the impact of media content, the need for dialogue between business and society, the importance of State regulation, the role of the different accountability systems for mass communications outlets, all have been the subject of intense and extensive reflection over the past decade in the international public sphere.

In view of this, the primary objective of the present publication poses a significant challenge: to identify points of convergence among the specific areas of expertise on the subject, the disparate public and private concerns, and the conflicting interests of the various actors.

Numerous approaches could be chosen to deepen a debate of this nature. That said, our efforts concentrate on one major, and highly
complex, axis of interest: a TV Rating System for audiovisual content designed to safeguard the rights of children and adolescents.

Assigning ratings to programming offered through different media consists in identifying the specific content that is deemed suitable and unsuitable for children and adolescents, depending on their age and on their level of biopsychosocial formation. However, it is important to note that options for establishing ratings are numerous – and often conflicting.

We would therefore like to invite the relevant actors in this discussion – children, adolescents, families, educators, experts, the State, civil society, and business – to converge around a single line of analysis with a view to offering a consistent and substantive (although not definitive or absolute) contribution to a debate that is of great importance to contemporary societies.

It is worth mentioning that we live in an historic time when audiovisual content – particularly content offered over television, as well as other media – is not only central to shaping who we are and will be, but also to our understanding of ourselves, of others, and of the world around us. Therefore, our interest in the development of that content is anything but trite.

With this in mind, the following chapters set forth a proposal for the formulation of a public policy founded on five central points:

  • The TV Rating System can and should be viewed as an instrument to protect and promote human rights, as well as an important tool for fostering dialogue with and empowering society.
  • Children and adolescents, to whom the State is entrusted to give absolute priority attention, must receive special consideration in this process.
  • As a medium that broadcasts/produces audiovisual content, television can and should be subject to democratic regulation by Nation-States.
  • The TV Rating System is a specific regulatory model whose efficiency will be increasingly enhanced as other parameters of the media regulatory framework are developed.
  • The TV Rating System should not be interpreted as a form of censorship or as an inhibitor of more progressive views concerning the concept of freedom of expression.

We are aware that a full consensus is difficult to achieve on an issue in which different actors hold clearly demarcated and, as so often the case in democratic societies, divergent positions. However, considerable progress will be ensured if the conversation among the different actors is framed within the context of parameters prescribed specifically in the Brazilian Constitution and, as well, in the international agreements governing the issue. In other words, the idea is to promote a true dialogue in place of what has too often sounded like a disjointed cacophony of monologues.

The recent efforts of the Ministry of Justice laid the foundations for this debate, to an extent unprecedented in contemporary Brazilian history. However, progress has been stymied by numerous and significant difficulties, many the result of continuing resistance from some of the stakeholders.

Thus, it is our goal that the arguments put forth in this publication serve to resolve some of these difficulties, foster a more in-depth qualified debate, and enable discussion of new issues, at least, in the Brazilian context.

From April to December of 2006, a draft version of this text has been available for download on the Brazilian Ministry of Justice’s website. In addition, the central argument of the considerations outlined in this publication has been debated on different occasions and with a wide range of Brazilian audiences. Participants at the National Seminar on Ratings Advisories (Brasilia, July 2006); the 8th Latin American Congress of Communication Researchers (Porto Alegre, July 2006); the 29th Brazilian Congress of Communication Sciences (Brasilia, September 2006); the 2nd Brazilian Congress of Psychology: Science and Profession (São Paulo, September 2006); and the
2nd Rio Media Meeting (Rio de Janeiro, October 2006), all had the opportunity to comment on the points analyzed below.

The substance of the content developed in this study and the significant response it has elicited to date are two of the factors behind the decision to publish the text in Spanish and English, as well as in Portuguese. It is our hope that the considerations of the TV Rating System examined in this publication reach the widest audience possible and serve, ideally, to inspire policy advances in this field in other countries. Enjoy.