- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

A bipartisan panel of senators yesterday confronted defensive and defiant entertainment industry officials over a federal report that says they market violent and adult-oriented materials to young children.

"This practice is deceptive, I believe it is outrageous, and it has got to stop," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and vice-presidential candidate.

The shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado "was a warning that the culture of carnage surrounding our children may have gone too far, and that the romanticized and sanitized visions of violence our children are being bombarded with by the media has become part of a toxic mix that has actually now turned some of them into killers," he said.

Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of Republican vice-presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney, said there is a lack of accountability.

"I think there is something to be said for the old-fashioned concept of shame… . They produce this stuff and people don't hold them singly and individually accountable," she said.

Some entertainment officials said their industry should not be made a scapegoat for cultural violence.

"Ascribing too much power to the culture is dangerous to all of us," said Hilary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America.

"What makes America unique is not its popular culture, but our relative ease of access to guns," said Strauss Zelnick, president of BMG Entertainment.

"Yes, violence is a terrible problem, but government interference with free expression is a cure that is worse than the disease," he said.

Danny Goldberg, president and chief executive of Artemis Records, also condemned efforts to censor his industry.

"So-called self-regulation achieved by political intimidation is the equivalent of censorship," he said.

Industry executives said they would not support labeling of records by age or a change in tax rules that would disallow deductions for the costs of marketing to underage audiences.

However, they counteroffered with suggestions to make sure explanations for a movie's rating appears on Web sites and that music lyrics are more available to parents.

A Federal Trade Commission report issued this week shows the entertainment industry has targeted the sale of violent, adult-rated products "directly to children," Mr. Lieberman said.

"Vigorous self-regulation" is the best solution for this problem, Mr. Lieberman told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, led by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

But if the industries fail to change their strategies, the FTC should move swiftly to penalize companies for false and deceptive advertising, Mr. Lieberman and other senators said.

Mrs. Cheney testified that public outrage is growing so strong that regulation of the entertainment industry "is being seriously proposed."

As an illustration, Mrs. Cheney distributed the lyrics to "Kill You," by Marshall Mathers, also known as Eminem. The rapper's song is about his desires to sexually assault and murder his mother and other women with "the machete from O.J."

The heads of major motion picture studios did not attend the six-hour hearing, and sent lobbyist Jack Valenti instead.

The movie executives were out of the country, on a commission or on maternity leave, explained Mr. Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Their absence "is not because they are ducking and running," he added. "It's because they literally have other things on their schedule that they could not erase."

An unpacified Mr. McCain announced that in two weeks, on Sept. 27, his committee would hold another hearing "for the sole purpose of hearing motion picture industry testimony" on the FTC report.

Mr. McCain said he expected the 13 movie executives who have been invited to speak including the heads of Time Warner, Walt Disney Co., Viacom, Seagram, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Dreamworks/SKG, MGM Pictures and Miramax would use the next two weeks to "clear their schedules."

Their failure to appear at yesterday's hearing was "an affront to American families whose children are so clearly in the cross hairs" of multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, said Mr. McCain.

The leaders of the video game and recording industries, as well as Mr. Valenti, spent much of their time defending their practices.

The video-game industry "has a proven commitment to effective self-regulation," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, which represents game makers.

"I am troubled by this [FTC] report and similar innuendo in political stump speeches that overlooks our positive efforts" to market video games to appropriate audiences, said Peter Moore, president of electronic-games giant Sega of America.

Accusations about improper marketing tactics "oversimplify and sensationalize the issue, and unfairly indict responsible companies such as Sega for the isolated mistakes of others," Mr. Moore said.

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