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Lieberman back on marketing warpath

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is seeking Bush administration support for legislation that empowers the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on movie studios, record labels and video-game manufacturers that market violent, sexually explicit and profanity-laden content to kids.
The senator asked President Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in June 21 letters to back the measure.
“This is something that all of us-Republicans and Democrats, entertainment industry CEOs and parents-should be able to agree on: It is wrong to market adult-rated products to children behind the backs of their parents,” he wrote.
Also last week, Sen. Lieberman began circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter in the Senate designed to drum up support for the bill.
As reported earlier by Electronic Media, the senator is trying to seize on the window of opportunity created by the recent shift in Senate control to the Democrats to push his bill. But he recognizes he will need bipartisan support to do so.
At a press briefing last Thursday, Sen. Lieberman said he has talked with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about co-sponsoring the bill. “I know Sen. McCain is looking at it,” he said.
He is also seeking support from Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and a longtime advocate of cleaning up content.
Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., introduced a House version of the Lieberman bill last week, but they’re the only supporters so far.
The Senate version, co-sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., is also backed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Sen. Lieberman may hold investigative hearings before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which he took control of this month, on his concerns about media content. He is urging Sen. Hollings to hold hearings on his bill.
The Connecticut lawmaker reiterated that he’s not trying to infringe on Hollywood’s constitutional rights.
“We, too, have First Amendment rights, and we are free to be advocates for the families we represent and also to appeal to the companies in the entertainment industry to uphold their own responsibilities as citizens,” he said.
Hollywood isn’t convinced.
“This bill is fatally flawed,” said Motion Picture Association of America President and CEO Jack Valenti. “It also violates the First Amendment in that it would grant a government agency regulatory authority over free expression.”
In a June 19 letter, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Creative Coalition, a Hollywood group, urged lawmakers to drop their support.
“For the first time, the concept of `deceptive’ advertising practices would be linked to the content of creative products,” the group wrote. “Responsible adults should not be subject to having their choices restricted or monitored by the government.”
Sen. Lieberman downplayed the concerns, noting that his bill provides companies with an incentive to avoid deceptively marketing violent and vulgar content to kids: no FTC penalties. Within the movie industry, he praised Disney, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox for taking positive steps to alter their marketing practices.
“Nobody has anything to fear from this law if they’re abiding by their own marketing codes,” he said.
Mr. Valenti has warned that studios will stop rating films if the bill is enacted, but Sen. Lieberman thinks the studios are bluffing.
“I can’t believe they would do that,” he said. “I think that the ratings systems have been put in because consumers, citizens, parents wanted them. There’s a public interest in them, and I just don’t think that any of the entertainment industry should pull back in that way.”
At deadline, the White House had not said whether it will support the Lieberman bill. But spokesman Jimmy Orr did note that President Bush “is committed to providing parents with the tools they need to protect their children from violent and unhealthy images and working with entertainment leaders, advertisers and others to encourage less violence, substance abuse and sexuality in the movies and on TV.”