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Music Industry Vigorously Defends Its Rating Policies

Entertainment: Officials are bracing for a scolding in a federal report today on the marketing of songs with violent lyrics.

April 24, 2001|MEGAN GARVEY and JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Trying to blunt harsh criticism expected to be lodged in a federal report today, music industry officials released a vigorous defense of their rating and marketing policies Monday.

"For the same reason that there is no rating system for books, the works of musical artists are not rated by age or content specificity--as it is virtually impossible to categorize words," said Recording Industry Assn. of America President Hilary Rosen. She called music "unique."

The follow-up to last year's searing Federal Trade Commission report on the marketing of violent entertainment to children--the first of two requested by congressional leaders--is expected to find some progress by the movie and video game industries.

But after largely escaping the wrath of Congress last fall, music industry leaders were bracing this week for a scolding.

In particular, the new review is said to criticize the recording industry for rescinding a promise not to advertise titles carrying the parental advisory logo in "publications, online sites or any other commercial outlet whose primary market" is minors. The pledge to implement industrywide standards for the marketing of mature material had been made in advance of the release of the initial 105-page report last September and is credited with helping keep the music business largely out of the fire last year.

But in a letter sent this year to the FTC, RIAA officials said they decided to withdraw the marketing guidelines after some lawmakers indicated they would pursue ways to prosecute companies that violated their own voluntary standards.

"The standards of the parental advisory program should not be a tool for inflicting liability on record companies (particularly given the protections afforded by the 1st Amendment) who try in good faith to communicate factual information to potential consumers," wrote Mitch Glazier, the RIAA's chief lobbyist.

In addition, the letter detailed complications in complying with the FTC's request that song lyrics be available to parents on demand. Some artists object to having their lyrics printed, it said. Besides, lyric copyrights are held by the songwriter or publisher, whose permission the record labels would need before publishing lyrics.

On Monday, Rosen called the guidelines already in place "effective."

"This program is overwhelmingly supported by America's parents," she said. "And we have taken the initiative to make this popular program stronger."

Rosen also stressed that "implementation" of revised standards for the use of parental advisory stickers in print advertising and for Internet sales had begun late last year.

"We are currently in the process of conducting a review, a comprehensive one, of whether these policies are being adopted and implemented," she said, adding that "given time," she believed they would "buttress" a 16-year-old program she said was already successful.

Some in the industry bristled at renewed criticism from Capitol Hill.

"Congress hates what they view as the corruption of public morals," said one music executive who, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticized lawmakers who push "mom and apple pie" legislation they know is likely to be found unconstitutional.

Video game industry officials also expect the follow-up report to say they haven't gone far enough in their own marketing guidelines. The industry, which some politicians have cited as responding most positively, has said it won't advertise in places where 45% or more of the audience are children. The FTC report called for the threshold to be 35%.

"Depending on where you set the standard, you could be significantly impairing a company's ability to reach its audience," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Assn. "As far as we're concerned, the self-regulatory system we have is as responsive and aggressive as you could put in place."

And Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti may have signaled his industry's stance in a speech to the National Assn. of Broadcasters in Las Vegas on Monday. Though not referring to the FTC report, Valenti delivered a 1st Amendment defense of the "right of artists to create whatever they choose without fear of government intervention of any kind, at any level, for whatever reason."

He added that it was up to parents, teachers and the clergy to "build within children a moral shield."

In a brief interview after his speech, Valenti said he had not seen the government's report. But he said he did not expect the movie industry to face serious criticism for its film marketing practices.

"I expect the study to be pretty complimentary," Valenti said. "We've cleaned up our act."

*

Garvey reported from Washington and Leeds from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Jube Shiver Jr. contributed to this report from Las Vegas.

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