Tags: Feds | Won't | Tackle | Smut-to-Kids

Feds Won't Tackle Smut-to-Kids

Wednesday, 22 November 2000 12:00 AM

Its Federal Trade Commission now says the best, maybe the only effective, way to deal with aggressive marketing of adult entertainment to the youth of America is to leave it to voluntary self-regulation by the industry that profits from such sales.

In the recent presidential campaign, the Republican nominee, George W. Bush, and his vice-presidential running mate, Dick Cheney, had accused the Democratic nominees, Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, of raising millions of dollars in campaign contributions from, and cozying up to, Hollywood entertainment moguls.

Gore and Lieberman had reacted by saying they were determined to compel Hollywood to mend its ways if it failed to do so on its own.

President Clinton had ordered the FTC to examine the possibility of a lawsuit against Hollywood producers on the heels of the murderous shooting spree by two teen-age students at a Littleton, Colo., high school .

The upshot of that FTC study is Tuesday's finding that the federal government should not travel the get-tough legal route but rely instead on the industry to exercise self-restraint in how it markets its smut and violence to minors.

The issue has left many Americans on the horns of a dilemma: They want to protect children from inappropriate entertainment, but respect the constitutional right to free speech and do not like to see even more government regulation.

In the final analysis, many of them say, it is impossible to legislate poor parenting.

According to a story Wednesday in the Washington Post:

FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky has advised Congress, which has been considering ways to deal with the problem legislatively, that the commission has reached a decision, after two months of study, that bringing a case against entertainment companies would "place the agency in a position that raises serious questions under the First Amendment."

He said a lawsuit would require the FTC to explain which movies are appropriate to market to children.

"For example," the chairman wrote to Congress, "people might have different views about the propriety of unaccompanied children under 17 seeing a film like 'Saving Private Ryan,' versus one like 'I Know What You Did Last Summer.'

The latter is a violent parody featuring bloody scenes of a teenager being hacked by a masked assailant. "Saving Private Ryan" is the widely heralded drama of heroic soldiers engaged in bloody battle during World War II.

The FTC chairman was backed up by a statement from his associate director for advertising practices, Lee Peeler, that after weighing the possibility of resorting to a lawsuit, FTC lawyers felt that would leave them on shaky ground.

"While there are some theories that we could raise, there would be very substantial hurdles for the commission to meet," Peeler said.

For example, he said, a lawsuit might undermine the voluntary content-rating system that is now being used by music, movie and film industries.

Faced with such a suit, Peeler said, the entertainment industry might elect to scrap its rating system.

Therefore, Peeler said, self-regulation "would do more and do it quicker than government law-enforcement actions."

The Clinton-Gore administration's new position was relayed to Congress in the form of a letter from the FTC chairman to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

McCain responded by suggesting he will now concentrate on trying to persuade the industry to change its practices.

"I will continue to work with the entertainment industry to substantially enhance and enforce voluntary codes of conduct," McCain said.

The Clinton-Gore administration's decision to drop the idea of suing Hollywood smut-peddlers was greeted with elation by Hollywood's top lobbyist, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America.

"Chairman Pitofsky's letter plainly states that any attempt to charge the movie industry with deceptive advertising of R-rated films would be fatally infected with serious constitutional problems," Valenti said.

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Its Federal Trade Commission now says the best, maybe the only effective, way to deal with aggressive marketing of adult entertainment to the youth of America is to leave it to voluntary self-regulation by the industry that profits from such sales. In the recent...
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Wednesday, 22 November 2000 12:00 AM
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