FTC nearing release of report detailing marketing of violent material to youth

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Senators attacking the entertainment industry for producing violent images in movies, music videos and video games are anxiously planning yet another hearing on media and violence, anticipating the September release of an investigative report from the Federal Trade Commission.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former presidential hopeful and frequent Hollywood critic, hopes to conduct a hearing on Sept. 13 on the report before the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs.

“The FTC were asked to answer the question: Does the entertainment industry market violent media to children?” said David Crane, a McCain staffer at the Commerce Committee. “The broad speculation is that the report has found that.”

The FTC report — ordered by President Clinton in the wake of the April 20, 1999, schoolyard massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. — remains confidential. But The Washington Post reported Aug. 27 that a draft report from the FTC's investigation found the entertainment industry to be aggressively marketing violent films, records and video games to children.

An FTC spokesman, however, said such a draft report doesn't exist. The spokesman said commissioners were still investigating and hoped to release a final report next month.

In the 16 months since the Columbine shooting shocked the nation, the White House and Congress have promoted numerous studies and legislation to regulate violent content in the media.

Most notably, McCain, along with vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., introduced the Media Violence Labeling Act, a measure that would compel the entertainment industry to draft a uniform rating system to monitor all forms of entertainment, from movies to video games to television shows.

The senators have eagerly awaited the completion of the FTC report in hopes of using it to bolster a new wave of hearings.

Although the report remains confidential, the FTC, according to its Web site, is studying the various entertainment rating systems such as those adopted by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Interactive Digital Software Association. The commission is also examining how the industry markets its products and restricts access to youngsters.

The Post, speaking to sources privy to information in the FTC report, said investigators learned that current rating systems are poorly enforced. For example, movie theaters often sell underage children tickets to R-rated films even though such a rating restricts children under 17 from attending without a parent or guardian.

The Post also reported that the FTC conducted a poll that found that parents demand more information than existing rating systems provide.

The impending report will follow last month's announcement from four major health groups of their endorsement of studies that found a causal link between the violence depicted in movies, television shows and video games and the violence that occurs in schools and on the streets.

But a coalition of free-speech advocates last week submitted their own report to the FTC contending that such studies fail to link real-life violence to media violence directly.

“When violent crimes hit the headlines, people want to lash out at something, anything, and assign blame,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, which released its report last week. “The media is too often that something, even though, as our report found, there is no causal link between the violent content in the media and real violence.”

The report, titled “Shooting the Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence,” reviewed a wide range of current studies and found many discrepancies. Researcher Judith Levine wrote that “contrary to the claims of politicians and pundits, the experts do not agree on the 'obvious fact' that violent content in media causes real-life violence.”

The report notes that the National Research Council's highly regarded study “Understanding and Preventing Violence” devised a matrix of “risk factors for violent behavior.” Factors included poverty, access to weapons, communication skills, drug use and genetic traits but did not include exposure to violent entertainment.

The coalition also noted that while some statistics show an increase of violent content in the media, reports of violent crime have been at their lowest level since 1973.

“Media do not reach children in a vacuum,” Horowitz said. “Children process the messages they receive in the context of their value systems. By giving children the tools they need to understand what they are seeing and hearing, parents can help their children absorb a wide range of media and messages.”

McCain expects a number of entertainment industry executives, as well as scientists and medical experts, Crane said, to testify in the hearing, even though the entertainment industry has been hesitant in recent months to attend such hearings.

“A lot of people like to characterize this as a social-conservative issue when the support to deal with this is quite broad,” Crane said. “This is not a hearing about opinions anymore. This is a hearing based on an FTC study of business practices.”

Crane said if the entertainment industry ignores the Sept. 13 hearing, it “might be in for a rough ride. But if they address the concerns, the desire is to work more in a cooperative manner.”

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