SENATE VOTES PROBE OF HOW MOVIES, GAMES ATTRACT KIDS: CONCERN ABOUT VIOLENT, SEXUAL THEMES IN ADS

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The U.S. Senate, in a clear expression of anger with the makers of videogames, music and movies, approved last week an amendment that would force the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to probe the marketing of violent and sexually explicit materials to underage kids.

Acting on legislation to increase funding for the prosecution of juvenile offenders, the Senate voted 98-0 to add the amendment. It requires the probe, as well as a separate study by the National Institutes of Health into the effect of violence on child development.

'UNSUITABLE MATERIAL'

The amendment calls for a look at "the extent to which the motion picture, recording and video/personal game industries target the marketing of violent, sexually explicit or other unsuitable material to minors, including whether such content is advertised or promoted in media outlets in which minors comprise a substantial percentage of the audience."

The fate of the entire juvenile justice bill remains uncertain, however, amid the fight over gun control issues. Other amendments to the legislation are to be considered this week; the bill still would have to go to the House of Representatives.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) who, with Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.), sponsored the amendment, said it came out of the Littleton, Colo., shootings and the subsequent Senate Commerce Committee hearing (AA, May 17).

BACKING VOLUNTARY CODES

Besides the studies, the legislation gives those industries antitrust exemption to develop voluntary codes and enforce their videogame ratings systems.

"We live in a society, unfortunately, that glorifies violence," Sen. Brownback told the Senate. "It is glorified in gangsta rap songs, glamorized in movies with vigilante heroes and simulated in numerous videogames."

Several senators said they already had seen enough.

Sen. Herbert Kohl (D., Wis.), noting that earlier he had worked with videogame makers to provide ratings for their games, suggested that the ratings were being ignored.

"Recently we have seen some disturbing signs of backsliding," he said, citing toy-figure offshoots of mature-rated games being sold at Toys "R" Us stores.

"Though these games [Duke Nukem and Resident Evil] are for adults, the manufacturers are marketing to our kids," he said.

GAME SELLERS TOUT 'CHOICE'

The Interactive Digital Software Association, which represents game software sellers, decried the Senate action.

"It's unfortunate," said President Doug Lowenstein. "The products our industry makes are legal, and it is legal to sell to kids. As an industry, we focus on letting consumers make choices on what is most appropriate to their own families."

Mr. Lowenstein said criticism of gaming-magazine ads suggest the Senate has little understanding that most readers are adults.

"I don't think we have 'M'-rated games on Saturday morning cartoon shows," he said.

However, he said the industry is looking more closely at the contents of its advertising to avoid using "gratuitous violence."

The Motion Picture Association of America declined comment on the amendment, pending Senate passage. The Recording Industry Association of America couldn't

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