FTC Finds Hollywood Aims Violence at Kids

A Federal Trade Commission investigation into the marketing of violent entertainment to children has found that movie studios show R-rated films to teenagers younger than 17 as part of the companies’ research efforts to attract youngsters to such films.

A Federal Trade Commission investigation into the marketing of violent entertainment to children has found that movie studios show R-rated films to teenagers younger than 17 as part of the companies’ research efforts to attract youngsters to such films.

The year-long FTC report, ordered by President Clinton in the wake of last year’s shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, also found that movie studios advertised violent movies on television during after-school hours, in high school newspapers and in comic books.

The report, which was obtained last night by The Washington Post, found a “pervasive and aggressive marketing of violent movies, music and electronic games” to children, even when those entertainment products have been specifically labeled as appropriate for mature audiences.

The 104-page report, to be released today, concluded that these marketing tactics undermined the credibility of the rating systems used by the entertainment industry to warn parents about the violent content of movies, music and video games. “Such marketing frustrates parents’ attempts to make informed decisions about their children’s exposure to violent content,” the report said.

Movie studios, record companies and video game firms insist that they go out of their way not to market violent material to children. But of 44 R-rated movies studied by the FTC, the titles of which were not released, investigators found evidence that Hollywood specifically targeted young teens for 35 films. The Motion Picture Association of America defines an R-rated film as one that requires children younger than 17 be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The FTC also found that children younger than 17 were included in marketing research activities. In 33 out of the 44 R-rated movies studied by the FTC, the agency found that Hollywood studios tested an early version of the film or showed the film’s advertising to children younger than 17. Although most of the research was conducted on children 15 and older, the report noted that research for eight R-rated movies included 12 year olds and, in at least one case, included 10 year olds.

Clinton ordered the FTC to conduct the study soon after the April 20, 1999, shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., during which 13 people were shot and killed by two students, who later took their own lives. The Columbine shootings were among a string of schoolyard tragedies that included shootings in Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oregon.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to discuss the report. McCain was one of several members of Congress, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who first proposed the FTC study. Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, is expected to testify at the hearing.

In addition to combing through thousands of pages of internal documents released to the FTC by various entertainment companies, the investigators also reviewed studies on the effects of media violence on children. While noting that media violence is not the sole cause or even the most important contributing factor to violent acts commited by children, the report said a majority of the research on this subject found “a high correlation between exposure to media violence and aggressive, and at times, violent, behavior.”

Motion Picture Association of America chief executive Jack Valenti disputed the impact of violent media on children. “If movies are causing moral decay, then crime ought to be going up, but crime is going down,” said Valenti, referring to reports that national crime rates have been falling for several years. Valenti was not commenting specifically on the FTC report, which he said he had not seen.

The FTC report found that PG-13 movies are regularly marketed to children 11 and younger. A PG-13 rating cautions parents that some material might be unsuitable for children younger than 13.

When it comes to violent R-rated movies, the investigators found evidence of 26 films that were targeted at children 12 and older. “The studios repeatedly advertise films rated R for violence on television programs that were the highest rated among teens or where teens comprised the largest percentage of the audience,” the report said.

In one case, the report cited a studio’s internal marketing plan for an R-rated movie: “[O]ur goal was to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film.” The studio was not named in the report.

The report also found that studio marketing plans concentrated on buying TV advertising on weekends and during after-school hours, when young viewers are most likely to be watching television.

In print advertising, the report said that R-rated movies were promoted in magazines such as Teen, Jump, YM, DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Six movie studios advertised in print publications that were exclusively distributed in schools, the report said.

Efforts to lure children younger than 17 into theaters showing violent R-rated movies were successful in part because theaters do a haphazard job of policing the industry’s age-based rating system, the FTC concluded.

In an undercover survey of 395 theaters conducted this year from May to July, the FTC found that unaccompanied children ages 13 to 16 were allowed into violent R-rated movies 46 percent of the time.

With regard to video games, the report found that 83 of 118 games studied by investigators were marketed to children ages 16 and younger, despite ratings on the games that indicated that they were suitable for those at least 17 years old. Of the 11 video game producers contacted by the FTC, 10 released documents to the agency indicating that boys younger than 17 were the primary or secondary target audiences for mature-rated games.

The report was critical of the music industry for failing to enact a more thorough content-rating system. Unlike the video game and movie industries, the record industry does not have an independent board to oversee the content rating system. Instead, each record company is responsible for labeling its own products.

Author: Christopher Stern

News Service: Washington Post

URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46682-2000Sep10.html

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