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Senate holds hearing on marketing of violent entertainment

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  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Sep 15, 2000    

Senate holds hearing on marketing of violent entertainment

  • A Senate committee explored the fine line between ridding entertainment of violence and regulating artistic speech.

At a September Senate hearing on the marketing practices of the entertainment industry, senators and the FTC chairman alike vowed that their concerns about marketing did not encroach on the First Amendment rights of the artists and film makers.

“It is not my purpose to pass judgement on the products or your industries,” said Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Commerce Committee, as he opened the hearing on Sept. 13. “We all have our own views on the quality and value of what will be defended as art.”

McCain and many of his colleagues on the committee unabashedly objected to what the Federal Trade Commission reported is the prevailing corporate strategy of routinely target films, music and games with adult content to young children.

Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the FTC, said as the primary consumer protection agency, the FTC has the authority to police unfair and deceptive trade practices. At the direction of President Clinton, the commission issued a report after a 15-month study which led to the Senate hearing. As a result of the commission’s findings, the call went out for self-regulation in the respective industries, but strict government regulations were not ruled out.

Long-time Hollywood critic Sen. Joseph Lieberman supported introducing new legislation to augment FTC regulations in the event that self-policing failed to stop the “deceptive” marketing practices. Lieberman said that any legislation must be “fully consistent with the First Amendment, and in no way regulate or restrict the underlying content of the movies, music or video games.” The Connecticut Democrat and vice presidential candidate testified, “We are focusing on how they market, not what they make.”

Noticeably absent from the hearing were the executives of the largest motion picture studios. Angered by their absence, McCain announced another hearing on Sept. 27 specifically to hear testimony from the studio executives.

Representatives from the recording industry did attend and trumpeted artistic freedom.

“Many of our artists legitimately express and comment on the problems of our society. We need to ensure that their voices are heard,” said Strauss Zelnick, president and chief executive of BMG Entertainment.

Additionally, Zelnick suggested to the committee a way to debunk the image that pop culture glorifies violence. He proposed a national public service announcement campaign, led by the artists themselves, to send an anti-violence message to children.

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities refuted the idea that art imitates life. In her testimony, Lynne Cheney called the music industry socially irresponsible for distributing violent and misogynic lyrics. Cheney compared the entertainment industry’s denial of a cause-and-effect relationship between music and behavior to the tobacco industry historically refuting cigarettes cause cancer. Notwithstanding her objection to the industries’ practices, the wife of the Republican vice presidential candidate did not want government to regulate the industry.

“I have long been a vocal supporter of free speech, and it is hard to imagine a law to regulate the entertainment industry that would not run afoul of the First Amendment,” she said.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, on the other hand, said the music industry must stop “hiding behind the shibboleth of censorship.”

“These artists will continue to flourish until the industry stops pretending that the permanent coarsening of entertainment is the only way to pay homage to the First Amendment,” said the Republican and part-time Gospel song writer.


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