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Explicit Songs Still Marketed to Children

Record companies continue to advertise violent songs on television shows and in magazines popular with young audiences, eight months after industry representatives promised to curb their efforts to market adult-rated music to children, the Federal Trade Commission reported.

FTC investigators found ads for music with explicit lyrics on BET, MTV and the professional wrestling show "WWF Smackdown." Advertisements appeared during the after-school and early evening hours, when children are most likely to be watching television.

The FTC report, released yesterday, is the follow-up to a September study that found that the entertainment industry was regularly marketing violent movies, music and video games to children while labeling the products as appropriate for mature audiences only.

The report gave credit to the major movie studios for making good on their pledge to stop advertising R-rated movies to audiences at G- and PG-rated movies. But the study also found that studios continue to advertise R-rated movies on television shows, such as "Friends" and "The Simpsons," that are popular with children under 17. The movie industry's voluntary rating system bars children under 17 from being admitted to an R-rated movie without a parent or guardian.

President Bill Clinton ordered the FTC to conduct its first study of industry marketing practices after the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which 15 people were killed, including the two teenage gunmen, who committed suicide.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a frequent critic of the entertainment industry's influence on American culture, said yesterday that he still sees a lot of room for improvement.

"I think the movie industry gets a C," he said.

Brownback said the recording industry has failed to live up to promises executives made at Senate hearings last year to rein in their marketing efforts.

"They have done nothing. They misled Congress, to say the least," Brownback said.

Brownback is preparing legislation calling for a federal study into the influence of violent entertainment on the development of a child's brain.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) plans to introduce a bill tomorrow that would authorize the FTC to bring actions, under deceptive advertising laws, against media companies that market adult-rated material to children.

Although Lieberman wants to expand the FTC's authority to pursue charges against entertainment companies, the FTC made it clear in yesterday's report that First Amendment free speech concerns make "vigilant self-regulation" the best approach to ensure that parents have adequate information about the violent content of movies, music and video games.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the legislation, if passed, would not survive judicial review.

"It would be dead on arrival in the first federal court that would hear the case because it is patently unconstitutional," Valenti said.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the legislation would be "counterproductive" because some entertainment companies might decide to drop their voluntary efforts rather than face lawsuits for failing to abide by them.

Rosen did say that yesterday's interim report included some valid criticism. "We need to do a better job," she said.

Rosen noted that record companies have instituted new guidelines that require all advertisements for adult-rated material to include warning labels. The RIAA told the FTC that the new advertisements are just beginning to show up because print ads must be ordered several months before they are published.

The FTC also was critical of the music industry's refusal to include more detailed information about the content of the music in warning labels.

Since the first FTC report was published in September, the movie industry has begun providing more specific information about a movie's content. For instance, Warner Bros.' upcoming "Angel Eyes," which stars Jennifer Lopez, received an R rating in part because of its "language, violence and a scene of sexuality." But the FTC called on the industry to make the information more prominent, describing the small type in many advertisements as "unreadable."

Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education and a longtime critic of the influence of entertainment on children, said yesterday's report shows that the industry needs "continued monitoring" to ensure that it lives up to pledges to reel in their marketing practices.

The FTC is preparing a second major report on the entertainment industry's marketing practices, which it expects to publish in the fall.


Christopher Stern, Washington Post. April 25, 2001

Copyright © 2001 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.