by Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – America's music companies were labeled the bad boys of the entertainment world on Tuesday in a government report that said they were still marketing songs with violent and lewd lyrics to children.
The Federal Trade Commission's study on the entertainment industry and its marketing practices was a follow-up to a scathing September report that accused the entire sector of aggressively selling violent and sexually explicit films, video games and music to kids.
The FTC said it was encouraged by the initial response of the motion picture and electronic games industries to last year's report but lamented the “almost complete failure” of the music recording industry's attempts at self-regulation.
“Unfortunately, the music industry response, at least so far, has been disappointing in its failure to institute positive reforms,” FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said in a statement.
The initial report on the industry was ordered by former President Bill Clinton after the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado raised new concerns about the effect of violent entertainment on young people.
The follow-up report requested by the Senate Commerce Committee said all five major recording companies placed advertising for “explicit-content” music on television programs and magazines with substantial under-17 audiences.
The music industry has been attacked for not giving age-based ratings for the sale of music with lewd, homophobic, misogynistic and violent lyrics. Grammy-award winning rapper Eminem has been a particular target for criticism.
MUSIC INDUSTRY DEFENDS ITSELF
The music industry conceded it had been slow to implement FTC recommendations. “We agree we need to do a better job of following our own guidelines,” said Hillary Rosen, head of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents 350 record labels.
However, she strongly rejected claims that the music industry markets violence to youths. “We don't market violence to kids. We market artists to music fans,” Rosen told Reuters.
She said the music industry announced guidelines after the FTC's first report, including putting parental advisory labels not just on “explicit” recordings but also on print ads for these. Secondly, it created guidelines for all its online retail partners to display the label.
“Unfortunately, the FTC report followed too quickly on the heels of our implementation of these new efforts,” Rosen said.
The report did not propose any specific actions to be taken against the industry, pointing to concerns over First Amendment rules that protect free speech.
A critic of the entertainment industry, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, said he would introduce a bill on Thursday aimed at punishing firms that market violent media products to children. The legislation would target “deceptive and unfair advertising” of adult-rated products to children, he said.
Rosen said she strongly opposed such legislation and that the public did not want government involvement in the entertainment industry. “I think that would be the wrong public policy and unconstitutional,” she said.
The movie and video games industries escaped the barrage of criticism they received in the last report but the FTC said both sectors still needed to do a lot more.
Unlike the previous study, the FTC found virtually no ads for R-rated movies in popular teen magazines reviewed but said ads still appeared on television programs watched by teens. Films rated R due to sex, violence or language require an adult accompany anyone under 17.
In video games, the commission found no ads for mature-rated games on popular teen television programs. But ads for the games were placed at the same rate as before in gaming magazines with a big under-17 audience.
Daphne White, founder of the parent advocacy group Lion and the Lamb Project, said it was clear there had been progress but much more had to be done to protect America's children.
“Clearly the music industry has not made any changes while the others have given lip service to FTC requests,” she said.
© Reuters 2001. All rights reserved.