Under heat from news sites, council softens rating system

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Under pressure from a coalition of online newspaper sites, the agency proposing a content rating system for the Web has switched gears, recommending a simpler rating system.

On Aug. 28, a group of prominent news editors rejected a proposal by the Recreational Software Advisory Council to rate news on the Internet for sex, violence, language and nudity.


The decision was made in a closed-door meeting sponsored by the Internet Content Coalition in New York.

Editors from publications including The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, MSNBC, The New York Times and the Newspaper Association of America said they are wary of news ratings because of First Amendment concerns and the difficulty of rating hundreds of news stories daily.

The RSAC system, now used by more than 40,000 non-news sites worldwide, allows Web site owners to rate themselves by filling out a questionnaire in the four categories of sex, violence, language and nudity.


The current filtering mechanism lets users turn on or off rated sites using Microsoft Explorer. Under RSAC's new plan, news sites would simply be rated as RSAC news.

Still, editors may not think that determination is suitable.

Neil Budde, editor of The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, said the general feeling at the meeting was that news organizations are not comfortable determining what is or isn't a news site. "It's not just news falling into this dilemma, it includes museums and even government," Mr. Budde said.


Molly Leahy, legislative counsel for the NAA, said her group is against any kind of rating or designation for news and prefers to let consumers decide.

For now, advertising agencies that place interactive ads don't foresee negative effects from placing ads on an unrated news site.

Lynn Bolger, media director for Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, said it checks the quality and content of sites before it buys ads. Because the publications involved in the recent meeting are considered "upstanding," the agency would not have a problem placing ads on sites that are not rated.

Copyright September 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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