Feds Accuse Entertainment Industry

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The movie, video game and music industries aggressively market to youths violent films and products that carry adult ratings, federal regulators say.

A report being released Monday by the Federal Trade Commission says that even movies rated R — which require an adult to accompany children under 17 to the theater — and video games that carry an M rating for people age 17 and over are routinely targeted toward younger people, said sources familiar with the report's contents.

The conclusions are derived in part from documents submitted by the industry itself, including marketing plans that demonstrate the efforts of companies to advertise to young audiences materials designated for adults, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The movie and video game industries have voluntary age-based rating code systems. The recording industry has a more general label that warns of explicit content in music.

FTC spokesman Eric London declined to comment in advance on specifics of the report, the product of a yearlong investigation ordered by President Clinton. He said, however, the study would be noteworthy for ``the light that it sheds on how this kind of entertainment material is marketed by the industry itself.''

The study included a survey of marketing practices and found most of the R-rated films and M-rated video games examined included promotional efforts targeting underage audiences.

The report does not suggest legislation, but seeks more effective self-regulation by the entertainment industry and enforcement of rating codes by retailers and theaters.

Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, said they would propose legislation or new regulatory authority to sanction the entertainment industry if it doesn't stop marketing violence to children within six months.

``If the industry promises parents that it will not market violent material to children and then proceeds to do so, then the industry's practices could constitute false and deceptive advertising,'' Gore told The New York Times in an interview published Monday. It's a new stand for the vice president, although his wife Tipper is known for opposition to explicit music lyrics. Lieberman has been a leading congressional critic of violent entertainment.

Ari Fleischer, spokesman for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, said the Texas governor ``believes the entertainment industry has to take personal responsibility for the products it provides to our children. And parents also have a role to play. We're all in this together.''

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing Wednesday on the findings, with Lieberman scheduled to attend. He and committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., backed a measure last year that requested the study.

Following Senate passage, Clinton ordered the report himself, using money from the White House budget. He acted after a spate of deadly school shootings.

Industry leaders questioned what conclusions the government could draw from scrutinizing Hollywood.

``If we are causing moral decay in this country, we ought to have an explosion of crime,'' Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said Sunday. ``The exact opposite is happening.''

He argued that any evaluation of the marketing practices of moviemakers can only be subjective and praised Hollywood's voluntary rating system.

``For almost 32 years, this industry has been the only segment of our national marketplace that voluntarily turns away revenues at the box office to redeem the pledge that we have made to parents,'' Valenti said.

Video game makers stress that more than 70 percent of their customers are over 18. According to the Interactive Digital Software Association, the industry trade group, adults buy nine of every 10 video and computer games sold in the United States. Only 7 percent of video games sold and rated since 1995 fall into the mature category.

But public interest groups said the new study could expose efforts by the industries to circumvent their own labeling system. For example, creating children's toys based on an R-rated movie enables the industry ``to go right ahead in a very surreptitious ways to market to kids,'' said Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education.

Some retailers have pledged to increase enforcement of the game code. Kmart announced last week that it would stop selling M-rated games to anyone under 17, using a barcode scanner that will prompt cashiers to ask youths for identification. Wal-Mart said it would adopt a similar policy.

Other chains, including Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Co., have stopped selling the M-rated games altogether.


On the Net: Federal Trade Commission site: http://www.ftc.gov

Motion Picture Association of America site: http://www.mpaa.org