Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Lucas wants raunch kept from kids

He supports bill holding companies responsible

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Rep. Ken Lucas doesn't listen to much Eminem — he prefers country and bluegrass — but he's heard enough to know that the music is not for children.

        The Detroit rap artist rhymes about smoking pot, smacking the wife around, raping his mother and acting out revenge fantasies against his enemies.

        “I think it's a travesty,” Mr. Lucas, a Boone County Democrat, said of entertainment companies that market Eminem and other explicit material to young people. “I don't think a label on something is going to keep a kid from seeing it.”

        Entertainment companies promised to filter some of the more graphic images in movies, records and video games from children, but several lawmakers demand more accountability.

        Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., will hold hearings this summer on a bill that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to penalize entertainment companies that advertise adult-rated material to children.

        Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Lucas also share a connection to the controversy over the MTV show Jackass. In both lawmakers' districts, young people have been injured allegedly trying to imitate dangerous stunts from the show.

        Careful about crossing the boundary between parental concern and censorship, lawmakers would not authorize the government to regulate content but would permit the FTC to fine companies up to $11,000 a day for each advertising violation.

        Mr. Lucas, one of two co-sponsors of a House version of the bill, said the entertainment industry is more concerned about profits than protecting free speech.

        “I think they give it lip service,” he said of the industry's attempts to notify parents about content through movie ratings and parental advisories. “They're looking at the bottom line.”

        Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, have dismissed the bill as a violation of the First Amendment that punishes companies that voluntarily place ratings or warnings on material.

        “Penalizing those who adopt voluntary guidelines is bad policy,” Ms. Rosen said. “It would have the unintentional effect of discouraging participation in this successful and widely supported program.”

        Mr. Lieberman, a vice presidential candidate last year and a possible presidential contender in 2004, has asked President Bush to support his legislation. But the White House likely will follow its own strategy with Hollywood.

        During the presidential campaign, Mr. Bush talked about urging television and cable networks to air family-oriented programming in the evenings and adopt a detailed ratings system to give parents more information about subject matter.

        The FTC, in a September report, found that the entertainment industry routinely targets violent or inappropriate material to children younger than 17 and that most retailers make little effort to restrict access to the material. A follow-up report in April found that movie and video game companies had made some progress on ratings and advertising but record companies had not.

        The FTC concluded that entertainment industry self-regulation was the best solution.

        Mr. Lucas said he doesn't consider it unreasonable for the government to hold the entertainment industry accountable for advertising material to children that a company itself describes as inappropriate.

        He also said the public should pressure entertainment companies to limit explicit material.

        Earlier this year, Mr. Lucas and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., wrote letters to CBS and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences protesting Eminem's television appearance on the Grammy Awards, where he sang a duet with Elton John.

        In the song, “The Way I Am,” from his award-winning The Marshall Mathers LP, he mocks his detractors and suggests that parents have more influence over their children's behavior than popular culture.

        Martha Fairbanks, 18, said all the exposure and criticism from adults helps artists like Eminem sell records.

        “He's trying to shock people,” Ms. Fairbanks said. “I don't agree with a lot of what he says, but it is funny and entertaining. I don't try to find any deeper meaning in it.”


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