Senate passes plan ordering study of violence in entertainment

Friday, May 14, 1999

Three weeks after the Colorado high school massacre, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to order a federal investigation to determine the impact that violent movies, music and video games have on children and whether the entertainment industry markets such products to young audiences.

The Senate on May 12 voted 98-0 to approve the measure, an amendment to Senate Bill 254, the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 1999. The legislation, which must be approved by the House and signed by President Clinton, also encourages the entertainment industry to draft a “code of conduct.”

“We need to take a deeper look at the cultural climate in which our children develop,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., one of the sponsors of the amendment. “We need to examine whether the violence they are daily surrounded by — on TV, in the movies, in games, in music, even in advertising — undermines their development and well-being.”

The amendment, also sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would:

  • Authorize the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department to investigate whether the entertainment industry targets children when it markets violence-laden products.
  • Direct the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of violent entertainment on children.
  • Grant a limited antitrust exemption to allow entertainment companies to develop and implement a voluntary “code of conduct” for television, movies, video games, music and the Internet.

Brownback said the exemption is necessary because threats of antitrust lawsuits forced the National Association of Broadcasters in 1983 to drop a similar code calling for “decency and decorum” in broadcast standards.

The exemption, Brownback said, would allow producers of movies, television programs, video games, music and other entertainment media to work together to develop the code.

Officials from the Recording Industry Association of America weren’t available for comment on the amendment. The Motion Picture Association of America declined comment.

But during a hearing last week, Jack Valenti, the group’s president, cautioned senators against attempts to draft quick legislative solutions.

The Senate yesterday avoided one proposal. It rejected, 60 to 39, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., that would have encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to confine broadcasts of violent television programs to hours when children are least likely to be watching.

Lieberman says the amendment sponsors don’t blame the entertainment industry for the Littleton, Colo., shootings nor for youth violence in general. But he said Americans more and more “are beginning to draw a connection between the culture and the killing our children are doing.”

“I hope the entertainment industry will see this legislation as an urgent plea to stop the denials and the excuses and to start working with us in addressing the toxic mix that is turning our kids into killers,” Lieberman said. “At a minimum, I hope they will take it as a stern warning that we will not tolerate the marketing of ultraviolent, adult-rated products to children.”