WASHINGTON — Mapping another development in the gale-force fury over Hollywood and the sale of violence to kids, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will attempt to parachute into the storm’s eye Wednesday when he considers a way to protect the First Amendment while still allowing for the creation of a universal code of conduct for the entertainment industry.
Hatch will convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, to take testimony about the constitutional questions involved in any effort by the U.S. Congress to intervene in restricting what the movie, music and vidgame industries produce.
Hearing could lay the groundwork for a proposal by Hatch to push through legislation that would instead amend antitrust laws to allow the entertainment industry to unite and come up with an enforceable code.
While Hatch made it clear last week that he would address the anti-trust measure at Wednesday’s hearing, he did not mention that he would take testimony on constitutional questions.
Washington insiders say Hatch is trying to make sure the judiciary committee claims its jurisdiction over an FTC report released Sept. 11 charging the entertainment industry with willfully and deliberately marketing violence to kids.
Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the other members of the Senate Commerce Committee had their day in the sun, giving Hollywood a very public tongue-lashing within 48 hours of the release of the FTC report.
McCain already has legislation pending in the Senate — co-sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Demo veep candidate — that would give the FTC jurisdiction to come up with a new rating system and code of conduct if the entertainment industry doesn’t do it first. The bill would provide civil penalties.
Irate that Hollywood studio execs were a no-show at the Sept. 13 hearing, McCain has asked that they come to a special commerce committee meeting Sept. 27. A number of top execs are expected to attend.
Whatever strategy Hollywood devises, it’s likely that some concessions will be made to lawmakers. Immediately following the release of the FTC report, the Walt Disney Co. announced that it will crack down on the marketing of certain movies to kids.
Biz honchos on tap
Many of the same people who testified last week at McCain’s hearing will be on hand to testify before Hatch and other members of the judiciary committee.
Those witnesses include MPAA prexy Jack Valenti; Recording Industry Assn. of America topper Hilary Rosen; and FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky.
One witness scheduled to appear Wednesday but who did not go before McCain last week is John Fithian, prexy of the Assn. of Theater Owners. Also appearing will be at least one expert on First Amendment issues.
In its report, the FTC charged that movie theaters routinely sell tickets for R-rated movies to kids unaccompanied by adults.
“It is one thing for the industry to defend the constitutional rights of creators to express themselves. But it’s quite another thing to expect society to tolerate the production and marketing of filth to young people for profit,” Hatch said in his own testimony before McCain’s commerce committee last week.
D.C. observers point out that the judiciary committee, like the commerce committee, is critical to the entertainment industry, since it addresses crucial issues such as intellectual property.
“Both committees have jurisdiction in this area,” one observer said. “Hatch’s hearing may be far less glitzy, but probably is no less important and significant.”
Since it’s an election year and practically everyone wants to jump onto the anti-Hollywood bandwagon, Congress may tack onto a larger spending bill some legislation targeting the entertainment industry before it adjourns in early October.
Even as Hatch holds his hearing, McCain and the commerce committee are expected to mark up “safe harbor” legislation sponsored by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) that would give regulators the power to censor violent or inappropriate programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.