- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

The entertainment industry routinely markets to young people violent movies, video games and music, ignoring its own rating guidelines for age-sensitive material, federal regulators say in a new report.

The study, to be released today by the Federal Trade Commission, offers a tough indictment of the industry's practices. It cites the use of a broad range of advertising and marketing to reach youths with products rated for adults, according to sources familiar with the report's contents.

The report's 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, the sources said.

Both the movie and video-game industries have age-based rating-code systems. Films rated R, for example, require an adult to accompany children under 17. Video games have their own code that includes an "M" rating indicating the product is intended for mature audiences ages 17 and older. The recording industry has a more general label that warns of explicit content in music.

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

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

The report does not suggest legislation. The FTC does seek more effective self-regulation of marketing practices by content makers and enforcement of rating codes by retailers and theaters.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic candidate for vice president, changed his campaign schedule to fly to Chicago so he and presidential nominee Al Gore could appear today on television interviews to discuss the FTC report, campaign officials said.

Mr. Lieberman has been a leading critic in Congress of the entertainment industry on the issue. Campaign officials said he would have no comment yesterday on the report.

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," he said.

The Senate Commerce Committee is to hold a hearing Wednesday on the report's findings, with Mr. Lieberman attending. Mr. Lieberman and Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, backed an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, that passed the Senate last year requesting the study.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Clinton ordered the report himself and paid for it with White House money. His announcement came after a spate of deadly shootings in the nation's schools, and the president said the barrage of violence fed to young people through entertainment blurs the line between "fantasy and reality violence."

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 yesterday. "The exact opposite is happening."

He argued that any evaluation of the marketing practices of moviemakers can only be subjective and praised Hollywood's three-decades-old voluntary code in informing parents.

"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," Mr. Valenti said.

Video-game makers stress that more than 70 percent of their users 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.

Still, some retailers have pledged to ramp up enforcement of the code. On Thursday, Kmart announced that it would stop selling mature-rated games to anyone under 17, using a bar-code scanner that will prompt cashiers to ask for identification from youths. Wal-Mart said it would adopt a similar policy. Some stores, including Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Co., have stopped selling the M-rated games altogether.

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