FTC's dissed content


The Federal Trade Commission last week reported that the entertainment industry has made progress toward ceasing the marketing of violent content to children, but senators say it's not enough.

"The Commission's review indicates that the entertainment-media industry has made some progress both in limiting advertising in certain popular teen media and in providing rating information in advertising," said the FTC report. "The industry must make a greater effort, however, if it is to meet the suggestions for improvement included in the Commission's report, as well as its own promises for reform."

Among complaints, which were largely directed at the music industry, were that some TV advertising of R-rated content continues to be placed in shows aimed at teens, with scant attention paid to its inappropriate nature.

"This report demonstrates that, while improvements have been made in some sectors, the allure of the marketing dollar appears to pose a challenge to self-regulation," said Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Max Cleland (D-Ga.) in a joint statement.

"As much as I appreciate the progress that has been made, the report leaves little doubt that there is still a problem here," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who frequently reminds the media that he doesn't appreciate many of their content choices. "It is clear that some companies are still making an end-run around parents and that more work needs to be done if we want to end this unfair practice once and for all."

Lieberman remained concerned enough about the entertainment industry's marketing practices to introduce a bill last week that would authorize the FTC to prosecute companies that purposely market violent content to children.

The entertainment industry immediately took a strong position against the bill: "It will put an end to the movie industry's voluntary film rating system, because it penalizes those distributors who participate in the voluntary rating system and gives total immunity from penalities to any producer who distributes a film without a rating," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association.

The report the FTC issued last week was a follow-up to one issued last September. he study found ads for R-rated movies and explicit music placed in TV shows that target teenagers, as well as spots for violent video games in teen-oriented magazines.

The FTC found that movie studios and video-game companies have largely kept their promises to curb their advertising of violent content to kids. With regard to movie studios, the FTC's only complaint was that "ads for R-rated movies still appeared on the television programs most popular with teens, and the rating reasons in ads were usually small, fleeting or inconspicuously placed."

The FTC said it found "virtually no advertisements for R-rated movies in the popular teen magazines reviewed. A spot-check of movie-trailer placement revealed general compliance with the industry's commitment not to run trailers for R movies in connection with G- and PG-rated feature films. The motion-picture studios now routinely include reasons for ratings in their print and television advertisements. Further, at least three-quarters of the official movie Web sites reviewed included the film's rating, the reasons for the rating and links to the sites where information on the rating system may be obtained."

Valenti said he was "pleased" with the FTC's findings. "The [MPAA's] member companies are doing what they had pledged they would do, and we will continue to make progress."

The FTC singled out the music industry's lack of progress, however, saying that it, "unlike the motion-picture and electronic-game industries, has not visibly responded to the Commission's report, nor has it implemented the reforms its trade association announced just before the Commission made its report [last fall]."

In response, Recording Industry Association of America President Hilary Rosen said the industry agrees "that we need to do a better job of following our own guidelines … Unfortunately, the FTC report followed too quickly on the heels of our implementation of these new efforts."

FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said that almost any content-oriented bill would violate the First Amendment but "a law that focuses on marketing" could survive.