Lieberman leans on violence alarm

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Sen. Joseph Lieberman, (D-Conn.) clashed Wednesday with entertainment industry officials over the need for government-imposed restrictions on the marketing of violent and sexually-oriented entertainment to children and for a revamped ratings systems for those products.

At a Wednesday hearing sparsely attended by other members of his committee, Lieberman repeated his long-standing warning that the industry better police itself better or face parents' calls for new regulations. "The best way to invite censorship is to disengage from this discussion," he said.

Lieberman's hearing comes on the heels of Kaiser Foundation study showing that more than one-third of parents who know their TV sets contain a V-Chip use the channel blocking technology to stop their kids from watching objectionable programming. The study also found that 48% of parents would support government regulations limiting the amount of violent and sexual content in early evening TV shows.

Lieberman also has introduced legislation that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to fine entertainment companies that market adult-oriented products to kids. Actor Billy Baldwin countered that Lieberman's suggestions would impose unwarranted restraint on creative expression. Instead, he said, policymakers should work with the industry to design "incremental" measures aimed adding more information in the ratings schemes for movies, TV shows and video games.

The hearing included an unscheduled appearance by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, who successfully appealed from the hearing room audience for a chance to make a pitch for rap artists, a frequent target of industry critics. Raps with violent messages already have brought attention to social ills, he said, such as racial profiling by police.

Other lawmakers at yesterday's hearing were skeptical that the government should be treading further into the content regulation and questioned whether there is sufficient proof that media violence contributes to real violence by youth. "We need to make sure we're dealing with the most accurate science we have," said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) questioned whether ratings can be designed to include more information. He pointed out that the TV ratings system, designed to tell parents the type of objectionable material and for which ages programs are appropriate, is "unintelligible."
- Bill McConnell

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