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Studio heads miss hearing

Top film studio executives Wednesday skipped a Senate grilling on their reported practice of marketing films with R-ratings to underage viewers.

"By some uncanny coincidence every single studio executive was either out of the country or unavailable," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "I can only conclude the industry is too ashamed of, or unable to defend, their marketing practices."

The industry's top lobbyist, Jack Valenti, denied that the executives avoided the hearing.

Their absence "is not because they are ducking and running," said Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America. "It's because they literally have other things on their schedule."

Video game and music industry executives summoned by McCain to answer the same questions showed up. McCain vowed to schedule another hearing in two weeks. The invitees were Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox International, DreamWorks SKG, Viacom, Warner Bros., MGM Pictures and Miramax Films.

His was the second congressional hearing on a Federal Trade Commission study that concluded the film, music and video game companies "routinely market to children" products that they release with parental warnings or age restrictions due to their violent or sexually explicit content.

The study concluded that entertainment companies marketed "violent R-rated films to children under 17, and violent PG-13 films to children under 13."

"This practice is outrageous, it is deceptive, and I hope it will stop," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic vice presidential candidate and a prominent critic of cultural corruption. "Leaders of these industries have to realize that they cannot tell parents that these products are inappropriate for their kids and then turn around and market them to their kids."

Vice President Al Gore this week called for a moratorium of such advertising practices. He added that, if elected president, he would give the industry six months to "get their act together" before exploring legislative controls.

Gov. George W. Bush said he would seek voluntary compliance from industry executives and criticized Gore for using the issue to garner votes while Democratic committees have already accepted $13.6-million in donations from the entertainment industry. Republicans have received $8.6-million.

Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, echoed Lieberman's concerns. But in a swipe at the Gore-Lieberman campaign, she suggested the candidates raise the issue at a Gore fundraiser today that Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films, is hosting.

_ Information from Associated Press was used in this report.