Theaters will check teens' ages

Movies: President Clinton, theater owners agree to tighten controls on the kind of violence young people can see by requiring them to show ID at R-rated films.

June 09, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

President Clinton and a major industry group representing movie theater owners agreed yesterday to require age checks of teen-agers trying to get into R-rated films.

Critics of the entertainment industry have long called for tighter controls on access to violent entertainment by children. Those calls have become increasingly strident since the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which two students with an apparent fascination with guns and violent video games killed 13 people before taking their own lives.

Yesterday at the White House, Clinton was joined by William Kartozian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners (N.A.T.O.), whose members control 65 percent of the country's movie theaters. Under the 31-year-old movie-rating system adopted by the Motion Picture Association of America, people must be 17 to gain admission to an R-rated movie, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

"This is an effort between government and the private sector to ensure that everyone's aware of the system," says Scott Cohen, president of the Maryland chapter of N.A.T.O.

Yesterday's announcement amounts to a pledge by the theater owners to enforce that restriction more vigilantly.

"We've got a lot of children in trouble in this country," Clinton said. "They are subject to too much violence through media and cultural contacts and it's too easy for them to get guns. And if we all work at it ... so that nobody's pointing a finger at anybody else, I think we'll have a good participation from the entertainment community."

Under the new policy, members of the theater owners association would require photo identification checks of unaccompanied children and teens seeking to view an R-rated movie.

Cohen, however, warned yesterday's announcement is far from a cure-all.

Fake IDs are easy to obtain, and the question of what exactly constitutes an adult guardian is not so easily answered. What if, for example, an 18-year-old boy buys a ticket for his 15-year-old girlfriend?

"It's not like the NC-17 rating, which says no one under 17 is admitted to this theater," and is thus easier to enforce, said Cohen, head film buyer for R/C Theaters, with responsibility for 50 screens at 10 theaters in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Reuters contributed to this story.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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