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A growing number of members of Congress and President Clinton are enthusiastic about the "v-chip," the in-the-set gadget that some day will let owners of chip-equipped sets black out TV programming rated (by someone) as violent.

No doubt parents worried about what their kids watch might welcome this. And such a step for locking out pornography on the Internet from home computers has much merit. We'd be more enthusiastic about the v-chip if it was a serious step toward controlling violence in America. That takes more time, money and commitment than most politicians seem able to muster. The v-chip, on the other hand, is cheap, sounds "pro-family" and chiefly affects businesses that don't generate much sympathy in some circles: TV, Hollywood and advertising.

Ratings and advisories have made sense in other entertainment media. Hollywood knows movie ratings well. Pop music carries advisory labels about strong language or subject matter. And TV already occasionally alerts viewers to shows that might contain offensive material. There's no reason to think TV and advertisers can't come to terms with a sensible violence disclosure system-if not the v-chip-if lawmakers insist on trying it.

However, advertisers should fight any government role in setting "violence" ratings. This is a matter for self-regulation, not a government censorship board. And no self-regulation system will satisfy everyone-not unless the government wants TV turned into a "safe" but sterile stage.

There's never been consensus on how violence (and sex) should be depicted in a mass entertainment medium that reaches into millions of homes, and there never will be. Yet broadcasters should make clear to Congress-and advertisers-their willingness to consider ways to help viewers make programming choices for their families.

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