Lawmakers may push for media ratings

Jul 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Senate lawmakers may offer legislation that would replace the existing alphabet soup of ratings systems for television, film, music and video games with a universal ratings code.
Staffers with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have discussed the idea, a source said, but a spokesman for Sen. Clinton insisted his boss isn’t working on such a bill at this time.
The discussions are preliminary, and the senators may instead urge the industries to adopt a voluntary scheme if they decide to proceed at all.
Their concerns have been prompted by complaints from some parents and lawmakers that the current mix of differing icons and labels is too confusing.
Sen. Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, will explore these issues at a July 25 hearing on media content that will feature entertainment industry and watchdog witnesses.
“He continues to be interested in the idea of a uniform ratings system,” said his spokesman Dan Gerstein.
Sen. McCain, backed by Sen. Lieberman, offered legislation two years ago that required these same businesses to collaborate on a universal ratings system for violent content.
The bill gave media companies six months to create a scheme, which required the approval of the Federal Trade Commission.
Meanwhile, the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, headed by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., tackled concerns about ratings and television smut at a hearing Friday.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., urged industry witnesses to consider adopting uniform ratings for media products and noted that music, videos, coin-operated video games, video games in stores and games on the Internet all carry different warnings.
Music and movie industry witnesses responded that different ratings systems are needed because each form of content is unique. Doug Lowenstein, president of an association representing video game manufacturers, said the existing ratings for video games are easy for parents to decipher, even if they’re different from other ratings.
Rep. Stupak and Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., introduced a bill this spring that bans for one year the sale and distribution of packaged video and audio products that don’t contain uniform labels. The bill would impact video games, recordings and video rentals but not TV or movies.
Overall, the panel members emphasized they would rather have these industries regulate themselves than have Congress step in with legislation, but they made clear that congressional action is always an option.
Lee Peeler, associate director of the Division of Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission, agreed.
“The commission continues to believe that vigilant self-regulation is the best approach,” he said.
House lawmakers were particularly critical of the music industry, berating it for offering only a generic warning label for lyrics that contain explicit language.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and others implored Recording Industry Association of America President and CEO Hilary Rosen to consider using additional warning labels that would help parents differentiate between music with mildly explicit lyrics and
extremely explicit content.
She said the existing warning is sufficient: “We err on the side of overbroad rather than try to interpret lyrics.”
Among the witnesses scheduled for Sen. Lieberman’s hearing are Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., an outspoken critic of media sex and violence; William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit Hollywood group; and Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.