- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

Top executives for Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures yesterday refused to promise a Senate panel that they won't market R-rated films to children younger than 17.
However, they and six other Hollywood movie moguls said they would follow 12 new marketing guidelines crafted by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Skeptical senators said this simply wasn't enough.
If the industry doesn't take additional steps to keep violent films away from young children, "you're going to see some kind of legislation," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican.
"I'm sending a signal across the bow," she added.
The MPAA guidelines which say the industry will not "inappropriately specifically" target children are too easy to circumvent, said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which held the hearing.
"Friends, we're in a town where you can engage in discussions about what the definition of 'is' is," said Mr. McCain, referring to infamous word parsing by President Clinton. "I don't understand this [MPAA] language. I think it's filled with loopholes."
Yesterday's hearing was held specifically for studio executives who skipped a Sept. 13 hearing on a report issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The lengthy report, commissioned by Mr. Clinton after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., found "pervasive" and "aggressive" marketing of violent and R-rated movies, music and video games to elementary-age children.
Children younger than 17 are not supposed to see R-rated films without their parents or guardians.
Mr. McCain told the Sept. 13 hearing that the motion-picture executives showed "stunning" hubris by not attending, especially since the FTC report revealed "patently offensive" and "despicable" marketing abuses in the movie industry.
Several movie executives appeared conciliatory at yesterday's hearing.
"Paramount wholeheartedly endorses" the MPAA guidelines "and believes that they address the core concerns raised by FTC report," said Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group.
"Clearly, there were times … when we allowed competitive zeal to overwhelm sound judgment and appropriate standards," said Robert Iger, president and chief operating officer of the Walt Disney Co.
Mel Harris, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said "a judgment lapse" occurred when his studio, Columbia Pictures, tried to market the movie "The Fifth Element," which is rated PG-13, to children younger than 13.
All the movie executives pledged to follow the MPAA guidelines, but Mr. McCain was not appeased.
Why do the MPAA guidelines only have studios promising to not "knowingly" include children younger than 17 in their research screenings, he asked. "If you're responsible for screenings, then you should know about this."
He also objected to the MPAA promise to "review marketing techniques" to "further the goal" of targeting films only to appropriate groups.
"My friends, that language is not good enough, because it leaves a subjective decision in your hands," said Mr. McCain, adding that the FTC report showed that "some very bad subjective decisions" had been made.
Mr. McCain then bluntly asked each movie executive: "Will you or will you not market movies rated 'R' to children under the age of 17?"
"We will not, sir," replied Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros., who was echoed by Walter Parkes, a top official of Dreamworks SKG; Mr. Iger of Disney; Jim Gianopulos, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment; Mr. Friedman of Paramount; and Chris McGurk, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
However, Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider and Mr. Harris of Sony declined to make such a commitment.
Ms. Snider said she could think of R-rated films like "Erin Brockovich" and "Schindler's List" that "could be appropriately targeted" to mature teens younger than 17. Mr. Harris cited marketing "difficulties."
"I'm sorry to hear your answer," Mr. McCain told them, later urging them to "follow" the lead of the studios that pledged not to market R-rated films to children.
Other senators received mixed results with their questions as well.
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, for instance, couldn't get all the executives to agree to stop marketing R-rated films on teen-oriented Web sites.
Some executives also were noncommittal about airing ads for R-rated movies during "family hour" TV programs, or using "coming-attractions" trailers for R-rated films only in conjunction with R-rated movies.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, found tepid support for a "safe harbor" bill that would ban violent programming during certain hours.
A proposal by Mrs. Hutchison to disallow children younger than 17 from seeing R-rated movies drew a polite "no thank you" from each of the movie executives, while their aides in the audience rolled their eyes and muffled their laughter.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, got attention, however, with his suggestion that theater owners forfeit their licenses if they fail to prevent teens and children from slipping into movies with R or NC-17 ratings.
"Theaters don't exist without you," Mr. Breaux told the studio executives. If the movie makers start saying they won't provide films to theaters that don't enforce the ratings rules, the theaters will "come up with a plan the same day," he said.
Highlights of the MPAA guidelines say that movie companies will:
Ask theater owners not to show trailers of R-rated films in connection with G-rated films.
Not show trailers of R-rated films on the tapes and DVDs of G-rated movies.
Not "knowingly" include persons under age 17 in research screenings of R-rated films, unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Review marketing practices to make sure children are not targeted for the advertising of R-rated films.
Appoint compliance officers or committees on marketing practices.
Include more-descriptive ratings on print and Internet ads.

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