R-rated goods, G-rated kids

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Some washington politicians love the prospect of a good scrap with entertainment marketers over movies, videogames and music that a lot of Moms and Dads don't like. But politicians' questions about the media being used to promote these products are not off base and should be taken seriously if, as expected, they are raised by members of a U.S. Senate committee this month.

A Federal Trade Commission study is expected to show that ads for products flagged by marketers as possibly inappropriate for younger kids (due to violent or sexual content or profane language) are nevertheless reaching significant numbers of young kids. When a company officially advises a product may not be suitable for young kids, is a warning label on that package where its responsibility ends? No. Should it make an effort to shield young kids from the advertising for that product? Yes.

This is where the discussion in Washington should begin. What degree of protection is possible, given the mixed-age audiences of many popular TV programs and magazines? Or advisable, given the First Amendment rights of older consumers to receive "commercial speech" and of advertisers to truthfully promote their wares? And remember that, unlike cigarettes or alcoholic beverages, it is not illegal for kids to buy these products.

No one wants Congress trying to solve a complicated media issue through some inflexible regulatory fiat, so it's wise that the ad industry's Freedom to Advertise Coalition is working to educate Capitol Hill about its concerns. But it's also necessary for advertisers, and the media that accept these ads, to show they are sensitive to the problem and are willing to do more, if need be, to protect kids.

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