WASHINGTON – Members of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing harshly criticized the entertainment industry's marketing practices Wednesday.
The hearing was conducted in response to the September Federal Trade Commission report, “Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children.” The study began in June 1999 at the request of President Bill Clinton. The report said the three sectors of the industry – motion picture, music recordings, and electronic games – “promote products they themselves acknowledge warrant parental caution in venues where children make up a substantial percentage of the audience” and that advertisements are “intended to attract children and teenagers.”
In his opening remarks, Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said “what is in question is not government censorship, but industry responsibility.”
He added, “Defending these market practices does not defend art of free expression.”
A “particularly despicable” passage in the report, McCain said, detailed Sony's attempt to market its PG-13 film, “The Fifth Element,” on Nickelodeon. The cable channel refused to air advertisements because it said its audience was mostly under 12 years old.
“I find this patently offensive,” McCain said.
In his testimony, senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said he and Vice President Al Gore believe self-regulation is the best solution to the marketing. But if the industry fails to act, he said, the FTC should regulate marketing under its false and deceptive rules.
“If the FTC finds those rules do not apply to this unique circumstance, then we should introduce new narrowly-tailored legislation to augment the FTC's authority, with the understanding, of course, to be fully consistent with the First Amendment, and in no way regulate or restrict the underlying content of the movies, music, or video games,” he said. “We are focusing on how they market, not what they make.”
Testifying from the entertainment industry were Hillary Rosen, President and CEO of Recording Industry of America; Strauss Zelnick, President and CEO of BMG Entertainment; and Danny Goldberg, President and CEO of Artemis Records.
Valenti said many of the programs the FTC said were popular with children under 17 and received advertisements for “R”-rated movies had a majority over-18 audience percentage.
“The reality is that in a TV/ cable/ satellite landscape avalanched with available programming, it is well nigh impossible to exile young viewers from any of them,” he said.
Valenti said creative works – such as movies – are very subjective. What is innovative to one person is trash to another, he said.
Lynn Chaney, wife of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Chaney, testified and asked record executives if they had any shame. She handed out copies of the lyrics to Eminem's song, “Kill You.”
“I actually listened to it.” she said. “This is dreadful, this is shameful.”
Danny Goldberg, the president and CEO of Artemis Records, defended the music industry. He said song lyrics are impressionistic, are often used symbolically or metaphorically, are not literal, and that no ratings system could distinguish moods and intents.
“I do not believe either government or any entertainment industry committee has any business in telling me and my wife what entertainment our children should be exposed to,” he said. “Those people have no moral or legal right to impose such a standard on my family or the millions of Americans, who, like George Bush, are comfortable with cursing.”
Goldberg said committees make teens and young adults disconnected from the political system.
“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, please help to stop this trend of pushing young people away from politics,” he said.
In her testimony, Barbara Boxer, D-Cal., said ‘R'-rated movies should not be marketed to children under 17, but asked “if the industry changed its marketing policies today, would that cure the violence problem in our society?”
She added, “we must look at the whole picture.”