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President, Congress discuss media violence in wake of shootings

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  1. Prior Restraint
WASHINGTON, D.C.--In light of the recent school shootings, particularly the April shooting at a Littleton, Colo., high school, the government…

WASHINGTON, D.C.–In light of the recent school shootings, particularly the April shooting at a Littleton, Colo., high school, the government has held hearings and strategy sessions to discuss what officials have described as the problem of the entertainment industry marketing violence to children.

A U.S. Senate committee convened a special hearing in early May. The Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), heard testimony from religious leaders, educators, psychologists, and advocacy groups about violence found in music, television, movies and video games. One of the primary targets of the Senators and the groups that testified was the singer Marilyn Manson, described by one senator as “tremendously offensive.”

Members of the committee also singled out video games such as “Doom” as being too violent for children, and claimed such games inspired the killings in Littleton. Committee members also criticized the entertainment industry as a whole, saying that it should not market such violent products to children.

“Every year, there is more evidence that violent entertainment harms children,” Sen. Brownback said in a prepared statement. “Both the American Medical Association and the American Association of Pediatrics have warned against exposing children to violent entertainment. These games, movies and albums are not put out by some obscure company pushing the envelope. Rather, they are produced, marketed and distributed by subsidiaries of some of the largest, most prestigious companies in the world — companies that have lent their corporate support to marketing violence.”

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, testified in defense of the entertainment industry. Valenti said that the recent incidents of violence were not connected to the entertainment industry, but to the students’ mental health.

“There is within them a mental disconnect swarming with dark and primitive transactions. . . . In a free society, no one can command only good movies be produced. Which is why I will not defend all movies. Some few in my judgment cross a smudged, ill-illuminated line where the acceptable becomes unsuitable, and I’ll have no part of them. The great majority of films, some of them rising to the highest point to which the creative spirit can soar, don’t warrant being lumped with a number of movies whose worth is questionable.”

President Clinton convened what the White House described as a “strategy session” on preventing school shootings in mid-May. The gathering included entertainers, entertainment executives, religious leaders, gun manufacturers, gun control advocates and others. The president criticized Hollywood and the marketing of violent products to children. “We have to ask people who produce things to consider the consequences of them, whether it’s a violent movie, a CD, a video game. If they are made, they at least should not be marketed to children.”

Clinton also advised parents to keep a better record of what their children have access to and to boycott violent entertainment. “If no one consumes these products, people will stop producing them. They will not build it if you don’t come.”