The entertainment industry rejected federal accusations Monday that it sells violence to children in music, movies and video games. Executives suggested they deserve praise for cleanup efforts.
Political leaders, including President Clinton and the men campaigning to replace him, said the industry must do much more. Vice President Al Gore suggested action should be taken if changes aren't forthcoming.
Industry leaders and spokesmen challenged a Federal Trade Commission report that concluded that movies rated R, which require an adult to accompany children under 17, and video games that carry an M rating for 17 and over are routinely targeted toward younger people.
CDs: "As an industry, we do not market violence; we market artists," said Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America. "When material is explicit, we clearly label it for parents and guardians to make informed buying decisions for their kids."
MOVIES: "There is no enterprise in America that is more attentive to the parents of this country than the movie industry," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Industry of America. Commenting before the report was released, he said, "Instead of bludgeoning us, I think Congress should say congratulations to the movie industry."
VIDEO GAMES: "I don't think making threats and issuing deadlines is constructive in the long run," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, the trade group for the video game industry.
They were reacting both to the report and to the strong comments from the campaign trail.
Democrat Gore urged a voluntary "cease-fire" in marketing inappropriate material to children and threatened federal action if the industry fails to respond within six months.
Republican George W. Bush also said the industry needs to do more "to reduce the violence that our children see on the screen." He took a crack at Gore, too, noting the millions of dollars that Gore and Clinton have received from the entertainment industry in political contributions.
Clinton, not running for anything but campaigning for his wife, Hillary, in New York, said, "Something has to be done. . . . They say these rating systems mean something. They can't turn around and advertise to people that shouldn't see this stuff."
The FTC pointed to materials submitted by the industry showing plans to promote their products to underage audiences. One document disclosed that a company's primary market for M-rated video games was boys 12-17. Despite the age rating, "the younger the audience, the more likely they are to be influenced by TV advertising," the document said.
A marketing plan for an R movie stated its purpose was to "make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film." Company names were edited out.
"It's their documents. They knew what they were doing," FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said.
The movie industry was criticized for showing trailers for violent films to young audiences and for allowing underage patrons to buy tickets to R-rated films.
Valenti said he would deliver a formal response Wednesday when he testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Lowenstein, the video game executive, said the report largely confirmed that the industry was already doing what it could to market games responsibly.
"To the extent that these practices exist, we condemn them and we've taken steps to prevent a recurrence," he said.
The FTC, hoping to avoid a First Amendment fight, is not pressing for more legislation. The commission wants the industry to expand voluntary codes.
Some entertainment industry executives said they sympathize with the underlying concern expressed by the report, even as they took issue with its findings.
In one case, the FTC conducted an undercover survey of movie theaters and found that just over half enforced age restrictions.
"We are not satisfied with the level of enforcement reflected in the commission's mystery shopper survey," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. "We will redouble our efforts at the box office to investigate other enforcement mechanisms."