Hollywood execs admit testing violent films on kids

By KALPANA SRINIVASAN

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Hollywood executives admitted today that violent films were test-marketed before audiences that included children as young as 9 years old. Questioned by angry senators, a Sony executive called the practice a lapse in judgment.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, said that if the industry doesn’t take steps to keep violent films away from young children “you’re going to see some kind of legislation.”

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, Mel Harris, president of Sony, parent company of Columbia Pictures, called the test-marketing of a violent PG-13 film before the younger audience “a judgment lapse.” The film was “The Fifth Element,” an action science fiction story starring Bruce Willis.

Other industry executives said much of the test marketing was done by an independent company, National Research Group, not by the companies that produce the films.

The hearing took place the day after the Motion Picture Association of America said the industry would stop “inappropriately specifically” targeting children in advertising R-rated movies.

However, Stacy Snider, chairman of Universal Studios, when asked specifically whether they would market R-rated films on teen Web sites, said there might be “some R-rated films we would take to a teen site.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and the Commerce Committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused the Hollywood moguls of using evasive language in describing their commitments and pressed them to firm up their pledges.

“I don’t understand this language. It is filled with loopholes,” McCain said. Both senators went down the table, asking the industry executives one by one whether they would market R-rated films to children under 17, using such venues as Web sites.

But several representatives emphasized that certain R-rated films, like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Amistad,” might be something that more mature teens who are under 17 should still see.

Others resisted the idea that an audience with 35 percent of its members under age 17 can always be disqualified as too young.

“We plan to use 35 percent as a guideline, but not an absolute,” said Chris McGurk, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

The Federal Trade Commission, which reported earlier this month that the entertainment industry was peddling inappropriate materials to children, said it was encouraged to see the industry heeding the call for improved self-regulation.

Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education, said the industry’s initiative was an important first step, but added that the movie companies need to extend their efforts to TV, by not advertising R-rated movies on shows popular with young audiences.

A study being released today by the conservative Parents Television Council found that of 54 movie ads aired on broadcast TV during 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. – the so-called family hour – 83 percent were for R-rated films. The sample was taken from Sept. 1 to Sept. 20 this year.

Others groups argue that the movie executives are trying to sugarcoat a more fundamental problem – the rating system itself.

“It’s kind of putting a Band-Aid on a system that is truly outdated,” said Daphne White, founder and executive director of The Lion &Lamb Project. She is pushing for a complete overhaul of the movie rating system to make it more accessible to parents.

But Valenti maintains there is no problem with the ratings themselves and he offered several initiatives focused on explaining the reasons for a given rating in print advertisement and on Web sites.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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