`Kill your friends' advertising sparks government investigation

Marketing of violence in films, video games, music to be studied

June 02, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- In another action inspired by the killings at a Colorado high school in April, two federal agencies will undertake an investigation of the marketing of mayhem in movies, music and video games aimed at children.

President Clinton announced yesterday that he had asked the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether the entertainment industry is violating its own voluntary codes by luring children to watch violent films, listen to explicit music, and play murderous video games.

At a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday morning, Clinton cited advertising in magazines for video game players that invited the readers to "kill your friends guilt free," "get in touch with your gun-toting, cold-blooded murdering side" or buy a game that is "more fun than shooting your neighbor's cat."

"I know this stuff sells," the president said, "but that doesn't make it right."

Yesterday's announcement marked the second time in a month that the Clinton administration has trumpeted a study of violence in popular culture. In mid-May, the president directed the surgeon general to study the possible link between stylized violence in popular culture and real violence by young people. The surgeon general has done two previous studies on the subject over the past 25 years, concluding that there was a correlation between viewing violent images and aggressive behavior.

Federal officials said they do not expect the current inquiries to result in any litigation or enforcement action because violent movies and games are not illegal products. Advertising for them is protected speech under the First Amendment unless it can be proven to be false or deceptive.

The study is expected to take 12 to 18 months and cost about $1 million, White House officials said. The long lead time will allow Vice President Al Gore to answer Republican charges that the administration is soft on Hollywood by saying that two studies are under way and he is awaiting the results.

As Clinton chastised entertainment leaders for offering gruesome fare to minors, he asked their voluntary support in reducing the violent language and imagery on movie screens, television sets and computer displays.

"Don't make young people want what your own rating systems say they shouldn't have," Clinton said to a small audience of supporters and a bank of television cameras. "The time has come to show some restraint, even if it has a short-term impact on the bottom line."

The president borrowed the idea of asking the FTC to study advertising and violence from Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who proposed the investigation in an amendment to a juvenile-justice bill that the Senate approved two weeks ago. The vote on Brownback's amendment was 98-0.

Entertainment executives reacted angrily to Clinton's latest rhetorical attack, accusing him of using them as scapegoats for a deeper societal problem.

"The music industry doesn't market violence to children, but of course we'll cooperate with the FTC," said Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "Our companies don't have anything to hide."

"And apart from that," Rosen added, "the president was clearly looking for headlines today and he wanted to get credit for an amendment that Senator Brownback had developed. I think it's cynical and I think it will be viewed as such."

A spokesman for the video game manufacturers was more measured in his remarks, saying that his industry was looking at ways to tone down the advertising for its more lurid games.

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association in Washington, said parents have the primary responsibility for policing the games their children buy and play.

But Lowenstein added that video game manufacturers are now reviewing the rating system they adopted five years ago with an eye toward tightening the standards and limiting advertising for the most violent games.

Pub Date: 6/02/99

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