General News

Lieberman targets Hollywood

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May 17, 2001 | 8:30am EDT

Hollywood can't say it wasn't forewarned.

While on the campaign trail six months ago in a failed bid for the vice presidency, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) told the entertainment industry that it had six months to clean itself up, or else.

Apparently, last week's meetings with top Hollywood honchos has not convinced Lieberman that the motion picture industry is moving in the right direction. On Thursday, Lieberman and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) introduced legislation to stop the entertainment industry from deceptively marketing adult-rated products to children. Joining Lieberman and Kohl as original cosponsors of the Media Marketing Accountability Act were Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

If passed, the Media Marketing Accountability Act will allow the Federal Trade Commission to issue cease-and-desist orders and/or levy fines against companies that voluntarily label a movie, song/album or video game as being unsuitable for kids, and then market that item to children. The monetary fines levied could be as much as $11,000 a day. The bill gives the FTC a year to come up with specific guidelines and regulations.

"The bottom line here is that the First Amendment is not a license to deceive," said Lieberman, a longtime outspoken critic of the entertainment industry. "It says to the people who run the entertainment industry that they cannot have it both ways. They cannot label their products for adults and target them to kids. And they cannot continue to undermine their ratings."

Jack Valenti, chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, violently disagrees. He said he will urge the studios to drop the voluntary rating system if the legislation passes. The MPAA will oppose the bill formally on the grounds that it infringes upon First Amendment rights of the studios.

"This legislation should be more accurately entitled 'A Death Sentence Bill for Voluntary Film Ratings.' It will put an end to the movie industry's voluntary film rating system, because it penalizes those distributors who participate in the voluntary rating system and gives total immunity from penalties to any producer who distributes a film without a rating," Valenti said in a prepared statement to Hollywood.com.

"This bill tells producers who volunteer to rate their films, for the benefit of parents, that they will be exposed to prosecution. It tells producers who do not rate their films they will not be exposed to prosecution. The net result will be shrinkage of useful information to parents."

Dan Gerstein, spokesman for Lieberman, told reporters that the studios won't stop rating movies, and that Valenti is bluffing in his assertion that he would have the voluntary movie rating system abolished.

The motion picture industry began rating movies in 1968 as a result of public pressure. The music industry followed suit in the late 1980s after the violent and lewd lyrics of groups such as 2 Live Crew infuriated parents. The video game industry came on board with voluntary ratings just a few years ago.

The Media Marketing Accountability Act was introduced just two days after the FTC released a less-than-complimentary follow-up report that found while some progress had been made over the last six months, these industries, particularly the music industry, have continued to engage in this deceptive practice. In a scathing report issued in September, the FTC found that movie, music and video game companies had been routinely and aggressively targeting adult-rated material to children.

Lieberman and Kohl were among the original sponsors of legislation in 1999 that set in motion the FTC's investigation of the entertainment industry's marketing

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