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Sen. Lieberman Addresses Commerce Committee Regarding Media Violence

Aired September 13, 2000 - 10:38 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Senate Commerce Committee now meeting on Capitol Hill. The topic today: media violence. There is the chairman, John McCain. Here now Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic out of Connecticut who we know more better as the running mate for Al Gore. Let's listen now.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... I think all of the country feels secure and encouraged when your steadfast and principled advocacy is at work.

Mr. Chairman, we're hear today to talk about the threat of violence to our country. In particular, the troubling way that the entertainment media are promoting and selling adult-rated products to our children.

But we're also talking, as the two distinguished speakers before me have made clear, and members of the committee did as well, about a broader theme, which is the level of concern about values and the thread of values that connects us as a nation, the growing concerning about the impact that the popular culture is having on our moral fabric. That connection, I think, is critical to understanding what's at stake here, and I want to just take a moment to discuss it.

Mr. Chairman, Senator Hollings, as you know, this conversation has been reverberating around the country for the last several years. It's not new. There is widespread anxiety that so many of our common values are deteriorating, that our standards of decency and civility and safety are eroding, that families are weakening and, as a result, that the quality of our lives, no matter our prosperous we are, is suffering.

Many of us in public office, particularly members of this committee on both sides of the aisle, under your leadership and Senator Hollings, have tried to give voice to these concerns. In particular, to the complaints of parents who feel locked in a losing competition with the culture to raise their children, our children.

Then came Columbine, which I think was a psychic breaking point for our country. It was a warning that the culture of carnage surrounding our children may have gone too far, and that the romanticized and sanitized visions of violence that our children are being bombarded with by the media has become part of a toxic mix that has actually now turned some of them into killers.

So, we pleaded, after Columbine, with the leaders of the entertainment industry to join us at the table, along with parents, the gun industry and many other groups involved in this problem, and work with us to reduce the risk of another student rampage and help us fight the larger problem of youth violence. That's what lead to the call to the FTC to conduct the investigation, which concluded this week in a report that indicates just how far we still have to go.

Rather than helping to shoulder the growing burden on parents, according to the FTC report, the entertainment industry too often has chosen to go behind parents' backs targeting the sale of violent adult-rated products directly to children. In fact, the FTC found dozens of what might be called smoking guns about smoking guns, internal marketing plans which show conclusively that the movie, music and video game industries were intentionally cutting out what might be called the middle mom and dad, and routinely, aggressively and intentionally marketing violent, harmful products to our children.

This practice is deceptive, I believe it's outrageous, and I hope it will stop. The leaders of these industries have to realize that they cannot tell parents that these products are inappropriate for their children in the ratings and then turn around and market them to those same kids. That makes a mockery of the rating system that parents depend on to make the right decisions for their children, it greatly decreases the effectiveness of the warnings and it greatly increases the odds that children will be exposed to materials that hundreds of studies have conclusively shown can be harmful to them.

That is why in response to the FTC report, Vice President Gore and I have demanded an immediate cease-fire in the marketing of adult- rated products to children. And it is why we have challenged the entertainment industry to develop their own uniform codes of responsibility to enforce this policy just as the FTC has recommended, with real self-enforced sanctions for offending companies.

The video game industry actually has such a code, and last year the game-makers agreed to strengthen it and step up its enforcement. While I suppose you could say that it has not worked as well as it should have, it is a step, a significant step in the right direction, and I think the game-makers deserve credit for taking it. We should expect no less of the music industry, which recently announced some encouraging changes in its parental advisory program, and of the movie industry.

I'm hopeful that these entertainment industries will now respond responsibly to the FTC's findings. But I must say this morning I am disappointed by the failure of the movie studios to produce witnesses here before your distinguished committee. The FTC report raises serious questions, and this committee, not to mention America's parents, deserve serious answers, not distant excuses.

The vice president and I believe that vigorous self-regulation is the best solution to this problem, and we hope these entertainment industries step up to the plate to do just that in the next six months. The Walt Disney Company did just that yesterday, issuing a strong statement that it would incorporate the FTC's major recommendations into its marketing policies, and I want to thank and commend them for that step.

But if the entertainment industry fails to act, and if they market adult-rated products to kids in violation of their own standards, then I believe they must be held accountable. Specifically, if the FTC has the proper authority, it should move swiftly to bring actions under its false and deceptive advertising rules.

If the FTC finds those rules do not apply to this unique circumstance, then we should introduce new, narrowly tailored legislation to augment the FTC's authority with the understanding, of course, that it has to be fully consistent with the First Amendment, and in no way regulate or restrict the underlying content of the movies, music or video games. We're focusing on how they market, not what they make.

The FTC report also talks about where they sell and the critical role retailers must play in protecting children from harm. The investigation found that movie theaters and retail outlets, at best, haphazardously enforce the age-based ratings and often do nothing at all. An undercover sting revealed that kids age 13 to 16 were successful in buying M-rated games and records with the explicit lyrics label 85 percent of the time. Now, look, that kind of laxity is just unacceptable.

Just as the FTC has done, we must challenge the retailers to adopt a tough, enforceable, voluntary code of responsibility prohibiting the sale of adult-rated products to children, complete with real self-enforced sanctions for offending businesses. Again, as has been said, K-Mart, Wal-Mart and Target just recently made a commitment to enforce exactly this kind of policy for violent M-rated video games as had Toys "R" Us previously. I applaud those companies for lending parents a helping hand and setting a high standard of corporate citizenship, and I'd urge the rest of the industry to follow their principled leads.

Mr. Chairman, all of these constructive steps won't ultimately be effective if parents are also not engaged. This is a critical point that many in the entertainment industry emphasize. And on this one, they are absolutely right. We've been working to give parents empowering tools to help them fulfill what we all agree is their primary responsibility, to protect their children from harm: the V- chip rating systems, a wide foray of Internet blocking and filtering technologies.

This FTC report recommends several additional worthwhile ways to make these tools more useful from investing in educating parents, providing better ratings with more information and fully disclosing the reasons for those ratings in the ads and on the packaging. But they're not going to be useful if they're not used, which is why we have to challenge America's parents to do more to monitor their children's media diets.

In the end, Mr. Chairman, what we're asking for today, again, is not censorship, but simply better citizenship. The same entertainment companies that we're calling on contribute so much to our culture, to our economy and to the American experience. They make some wonderful products that entertain, education and elevate us as a people, but they are also contributing to some serious national problems, and we need their contribution and help, cooperation and support, if we're going to make things better.

The FTC report and we here today, I think all of us across party lines, are saying to Hollywood quite simply, "Work with us and with the America's parents. Provide them good information to make good judgments, and help us meet our shared obligation to protect our children and our country from harm."

Thank you very much.


On behalf of the entire committee, we thank you for this important testimony, your continued involvement in this very important issue. And it's very good to see you again.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, dear friend, Mr. Chairman.

MCCAIN: Senator Kohl?

HEMMER: Sen. Joseph Lieberman now delivering his statements there to the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington. This dealing with the FTC report on media violence that came out on Monday of this past week saying that the industry now catering its marketing toward young teenagers, anywhere from the ages of 12 or 13, on up to 18. The committee hearing continues today. Later, industry analysts also will be along to take questions from the committee as well. So we'll track it throughout the day, let you know what's happening at the Commerce Committee in Washington.



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