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Children and Media Violence Hearings Continue

The influence of the violence depicted in movies was the subject of a hearing held by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee on September 27. The hearing followed the same committee’s September 13 hearing, which focused on a new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about children and media violence (see The Source, 9/15/00, p. 8).

Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) held the second hearing to receive testimony from the representatives of major motion picture studios, all of whom were invited but failed to appear for the first hearing.

Representing eight major film companies, the witnesses concentrated their testimony on the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system, which is designed to help parents select movies appropriate for their children. Mel Harris of Sony Pictures Entertainment said his industry is “mindful of the critical role parents play in the process of choosing films for their children.” However, he said, “We are also aware that children may see the advertising for films that their parents may believe are not right for them. So we voluntarily submit all of our advertising materials…to the MPAA’s advertising administration for its certification that these materials are suitable for viewing by persons of all ages.”

Witnesses voiced support for a new initiative designed by the MPAA to address some of the FTC’s concerns about marketing practices. Under the initiative, motion picture studios would provide parents with more information about the reasons for a film’s R rating. The initiative outlines several other steps to be taken by motion picture studios, including:

  • requesting theater owners not to show previews for R-rated films before G-rated movies;
  • using the same standard for films on video cassette or DVD;
  • excluding individuals aged 17 and younger from market research for films likely to be rated R for violence;
  • operating under the goal of avoiding inappropriate influence over children in advertising for films rated R for violence;
  • appointing a senior executive to oversee these efforts; and
  • participating in an annual MPAA review process of these efforts.

Several witnesses emphasized their First Amendment rights. Describing movie content as “clearly constitutionally protected speech,” Rob Friedman of Paramount Pictures told the committee: “We hear your concerns and those of the FTC, and are committed to strengthening our processes so that parents are provided with more information and our advertising messages are heard by the appropriate audiences.”

Senators strongly expressed their concerns about the content of the FTC report and the film industry’s past practices. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said it is unacceptable “when 46 percent of the underage people are able to buy tickets to inappropriate movies, according to the ratings system that you all have said is working.” Referring to the new MPAA initiative, she added: “I am sending a signal across the bow that if you do not try to make this really work, you are going to see some kind of legislation, because parents are throwing up their hands in frustration.”

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