If there is anything guaranteed to unite right-wing moralists and left-
wing libertarians it’s the V-chip, an ingenious little gizmo which lets
TV viewers block out programmes with heavy violence or sexual content.
Britain’s Advertising Association is alarmed enough by the V-chip, soon
to become a standard fitting on most TV sets sold in the US and,
possibly, in Europe, that it is calling its members together to digest
In the US, the V-chip is the Clinton administration’s answer to a rising
tide of voter opinion that believes small-screen violence is fuelling
aggression among children and teenagers.
Whether or not that’s true is an open question. What’s certain is that
the V-chip’s imminent arrival is causing an outbreak of sweaty palms
among agencies, advertisers and the networks.
Letting parents blank certain programmes so that their children can’t
see them will make audience guarantees given to advertisers worthless,
network bosses fear.
And what future is there for quality TV if advertisers flee from
programmes dealing responsibly with important issues because they carry
a high violence warning?
Nevertheless, it’s doubtful that Europe’s ad industry need get too
worked up about the V-chip.
It will take years before V-chips are in widespread use, by which time a
generation of computer-literate kids will have learned to outsmart them.
Nor is there much chance of the EU being able to agree a common standard
for what is or isn’t excessively violent or pornographic.
Yet even though the V-chip may prove no more than a passing fad it’s
also symbolic of a feeling of powerlessness among punters to control the
plethora of messages being blasted at them from a growing range of
Advertisers intent on pushing taste and decency to the boundaries should
remember that consumers will take only so much.