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House Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Children and Media Violence

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing on July 20 to examine efforts by the entertainment industry to curb children’s exposure to violent content. The hearing was in response to two reports by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that focused on the influence of media violence on children.

The first FTC report was issued in September 2000, and a follow-up report was issued this past April. The September report studied the marketing of entertainment products that contain violence to children, and the practices by the motion picture, music recording, and electronic games industries. The report concluded that these industries directly target children in their marketing and advertising of entertainment products that contain violence.

Lee Peeler of the FTC provided some insights into the results of the reports. “The Commission is encouraged by the motion picture and electronic game industries’ initial responses to its September 2000 report, but it is disappointed by the almost complete failure of the music recording industry to institute any positive reforms.”

Representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Interdigital Software Association testified before the subcommittee, promoting their respective ratings systems and marketing techniques. Representing the recording industry, Hilary Rosen said, “We do not prohibit the marketing of music to certain age groups. We do provide a well-known and commercially accepted logo to identify recordings that contain explicit material so that parents have a ‘heads-up’ in making purchasing decisions.”

Jack Valenti of the MPAA highlighted the voluntary rating system implemented by his industry. “For almost 33 years the movie industry has been offering advance cautionary warnings to parents about individual films so that parents can make their own judgments,” he said. “The rating system believes that only the parents can make final decisions about what they want their children to see or not to see,” he added.

Daphne White of the Lion & Lamb Project criticized all three industries, “If I were to give the three industry groups a grade, I would give the music industry an ‘F,’ the movie industry a ‘D minus,’ and the video game industry a ‘D plus.'” She added, “The FTC did say that the video game industry has done more than the other industries, and that their ratings system is better, but since the other two industries are getting lousy grades, ‘better’ than lousy is still far from good.”

Ms. Rosen cautioned the subcommittee against “allowing government intervention in the marketing of music.” She added, “I know that some of your colleagues have introduced a measure that was introduced in the Senate by Senator Lieberman. The very nature of these proposals raise serious constitutional red flags.”

“I wish there were a magic pill to help our kids develop good values and judgment,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). “The primary responsibility for teaching values to our kids is us, the parents,” she said, adding, “I am working on my skills to be a better parent, but not to legislate federal censorship.”

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY) criticized the music industry for rewarding an entertainer who sings songs with offensive lyrics, referring to a song by Eminem. “I don’t want to hamper free speech,” she said, adding “I think the music industry should be embarrassed about rewarding songs about suicide and rape.”

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