September 27, 2000
Hollywood's top executives appear before a Congressional Committee to discuss the marketing of violent entertainment to kids. Kwame Holman reports.
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| KWAME HOLMAN: Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association
of America, was back before the Senate Commerce Committee today, this
time accompanied by Hollywood executives. Valenti was on his own two weeks
ago, when he defended the filmmaking industry against charges it was marketing
R-rated movies to children. At the time, Committee Chairman John McCain
was angry that not a single studio executive showed up for the hearing,
and took out that anger on Valenti. Today however, McCain let the matter
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, Chairman, Commerce Committee: Good morning. The purpose of this hearing is to further consider the Federal Trade Commission report marketing violent entertainment to children. This hearing is a functional extension of the one held two weeks ago. I want to thank the representatives of the motion picture industry for their attendance here.
|Industry under fire|
KWAME HOLMAN: The industry came under immediate fire once the report was released. The industry executives said they hoped their appearance today would demonstrate their commitment to self-regulation. However, today's hearing coincided with a "New York Times" report that some violent films have been test-marketed before audiences that included children as young as nine. One of the movies mentioned was "The Fifth Element."
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, (D) North Dakota: They've been gathering nine-, ten-, and 13-year-old kids for research exercises to market test movies and so on and so forth. That's wholly inappropriate - I mean, aside from the fact that FTC says internal documents suggest that the companies have actually been strategizing - that were marketing this R movie to underage kids, totally unappropriate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mel Harris is President of Sony, parent company of Columbia Pictures, which produced "The Fifth Element."
MEL HARRIS: We totally subscribe to what we have placed with the MPAA members, that we will not have any research groups where any recruited viewer under the age of 17 will not be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today's hearing came a day after the Motion Picture Association and eight movie studios said they would stop "inappropriately specifically targeting children" in advertising R-rated movies. The 12-point guidelines include a pledge that "no company will knowingly include people under 17 in research screenings for films rated-r for violence unless accompanied by a parent or guardian."
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I don't understand this language. I think it's filled with loopholes - specifically - of not inappropriately - specifically targeting children. Inappropriateness is judgment which is clearly subjective and not objective. So what I would ask the witnesses, why don't you just simply say that you will not market to children this kind of R rated material, that you will not market it to children under 17, period.
|The studios respond|
KWAME HOLMAN: Stacy Snider is chairman of Universal Pictures.
STACY SNIDER: I want to recognize the sincerity and the deep conviction with which you put forth that question. And I have thought about the phraseology of this initiative for many days, and for a good part of last night. And while in looking at this report, there are things in this report that shock me and that dismay me, and that we can pledge to you sincerely, will not happen going forth -- we're not g to market R for violent films to 10 and 12-year-olds. These documents were eye opening to me, I take them seriously, and you have gotten my attention. At the same time, however, I am reminded of films, not merely films like "Schindler's List," which I'm very proud to be associated with since it was released by Universal Pictures, but I'm referring to the continuum of R rated violent films, some of which would be suitable for mature teenagers to see with their parents. I'm thinking, for example, of the film like "Boys in the Hood." If I were to pitch "Boys in the Hood" to the Senators here, it might contain graphic violence, it might contain language, it would contain gunplay, and yet that is an example of a movie that personally was inspiring to me, it would be a movie that I might choose to take a mature children to, mature child to, provided I had the proper information of what was contained within that film.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Will you or will you not market movies rated R to children under the age of 17?
MEL HARRIS: You refer, sir, to the difficulty with working with words like inappropriately, or specifically, or targeting children. One of the ways you could say is we will only appropriately specifically target children, which obviously is not the proper way to use that language. So we may have difficulty with the word like inappropriate, but we borrowed it from what we saw in the FTC report -- at least on our behalf. And I think if the specifically targeting children in advertising for our films is a difficult phrase, we obviously welcome dialogue among our friends here and also among those of you and others who might offer other kinds of language that would help us to give you satisfaction on that point.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you. Now I'll ask the question again. Will you or will you not market movies rated R to children under the age of 17?
MEL HARRIS: In that question, sir, I cannot answer and say that we will not have marketing materials that will be exposed to people under the age of 17, that would be impossible for me to say.
|A need for increased effort?|
KWAME HOLMAN: Some Senators conceded the industry is making an effort to shield children from inappropriate entertainment -- but not enough of an effort.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I am not satisfied that when 46% of the underage people are able to buy tickets to inappropriate movies, according to the ratings system that you all have said is working, I don't think it's working. And we are looking for ways to make it work, and I am sending a signal across the bow that if you don't try to make this really work, then you are going to see legislation, because parents are throwing up their hands in frustration.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you, this hearing is adjourned.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senator McCain ended the hearing without any threats of his own. He simply told the Hollywood executives they had some work to do.
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