Pols Want Uniform Violence Ratings

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Washington -- Senate legislation introduced last week would
give the entertainment industry six months to craft a uniform ratings system for violence
that retail distributors of movies, music and video games would be responsible for
enforcing.

Bill sponsors Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman
(D-Conn.) -- two of the entertainment industry's harshest critics on Capitol Hill -- said
parents are confused by the different ratings systems employed by moviemakers, TV networks
and video-game makers.

"We must implement a standardized, information-based
labeling system that will be an easy, useful tool for parents in the digital age,"
McCain said in a joint statement with Lieberman June 4.

The cable industry -- which might have to modify the
TV-ratings system that it currently employs if the bill becomes law -- issued a statement
expressing concern about the adoption of new system specifically designed for violence.

"We have a TV-ratings system in place that identifies
violent programming content and that is intended to work with the V-chip. We're taking a
close look at this new legislation, but we have no additional comment at this time,"
National Cable Television Association spokesman Scott Broyles said.

The legislation would amend the Cigarette Labeling and
Advertising Act, and it would apply to interactive video games, video programs, motion
pictures and music.

"These labels must reflect the nature, context,
intensity of violent content and age-appropriateness of the media product," the
lawmakers' statement said.

The Federal Trade Commission is required to approve the
labeling system, and it can modify the one submitted for approval to reflect the intent of
the law. The labeling system must be identical across product lines, and it must include
symbols, icons and text that accurately reflect the violent content and
age-appropriateness of the product.

In another provision, the bill would ban the domestic sale
or commercial distribution of unlabeled products after one year. Retailers that failed to
enforce the age restrictions would face $10,000 fines. And manufacturers and producers
that violate the labeling system would be subject to $10,000 fines for each day that the
product is in the marketplace.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association
of America, said the bill was tantamount to shredding the First Amendment, and it would
never survive court challenge.

Valenti added that imposing a uniform violence rating on
music, movies and video games was unworkable, especially when the government must engage
in the subjective task of interpreting the context and intensity of violence.

"There are no easy answers to the violence that too
frequently afflicts society," Valenti said in a prepared statement. "But tearing
up the First Amendment is no answer at all, which is why the McCain-Lieberman proposal is
doomed to fail."

The latest entertainment-violence debate ignited in April,
when two teen-age boys in Littleton, Colo., shot and killed 13 people at Columbine High
School before taking their own lives -- a massacre that rattled Capitol Hill and the White
House.

Two weeks ago, Valenti refused to react to President
Clinton's order that the Department of Justice and the FTC investigate whether Hollywood
studios market violent films to children that only adults are allowed to be admitted to
theaters to see or to rent from video stores.

Later, Valenti reportedly told a group of movie producers
that they must take steps to eliminate gratuitous violence from their films.

Robert Corn-Revere, a First Amendment attorney with Hogan
& Hartson in Washington, D.C., said he agreed with Valenti that the McCain-Lieberman
bill had constitutional problems.

"When the government is sitting in judgment of a
labeling system, and it has some enforcement role, it is very suspicious from a First
Amendment perspective. There is nothing voluntary about it," Corn-Revere added.

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