White House balks at Lieberman's media bill


It doesn't look as if the White House will throw its weight behind an effort by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) to fine entertainment companies for marketing adult-rated content to kids. But the administration did say yesterday that it wants to reduce the amount of sex and violence, not only in marketing, but on TV and in the movies, and that it will look for ways to work with the entertainment industry to do so.

Although the administration has taken no official position on the marketing bill, a White House spokeswoman responded to a letter from Lieberman soliciting its support with a statement that suggested the administration preferred a nonlegislative approach: "The President is committed to providing parents with the tools they need to protect their children from violent and unhealthy images ," the White House said, "and he is committed to working with entertainment leaders, advertisers and others to encourage less violence, substance abuse and sexuality in the movies and on television."

Lieberman is criticizing the movie, music and video game industries for marketing "adult-rated" content to kids. Lieberman and Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) have co-sponsored a bill that would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to fine entertainment companies who market R-rated programs to kids. On Thursday, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) introduced a companion measure in the House.

Lieberman, Kohl, Israel and Osborne on Thursday also sent the letter to the White House asking for the president's support. "This is something that all of us-Republicans and Democrats-should be able to agree on: It is wrong to market adult-rated products to children behind the backs of their parents," said the letter.

Last September, the FTC released a report that found the movie, music and video game industries were "aggressively" marketing adult-rated content to kids. As the new chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, Lieberman plans next month to hold a hearing on the feasibility of a universal ratings system. He's also encouraging the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on his bill, over which that committee has jurisdiction. The industries say they have been successful at changing their approach and they would like Lieberman to give them some credit. "This bill is fatally flawed," said MPAA President Jack Valenti. "It actually punishes those who voluntarily rate their films and provide information to parents while giving those who do nothing a free pass." Sources say entertainment industry executives are "very angry" Lieberman won't let go of this issue.
- Paige Albiniak