MPAA prexy celebrates 32nd anniversary of current ratings system

WASHINGTON — Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti is scheduled next week to hold the first official meetings with compliance teams appointed by each major studio in the scramble to appease lawmakers outraged over the marketing of violent films to kids.

Valenti, declining to comment on the meetings themselves, continues to insist that the MPAA’s ratings system itself doesn’t need to be changed, despite critics who say the R-rated category is too broad.

Today, it will be a proud Valenti who celebrates the 32nd anniversary of the ratings, which he shepherded into creation within weeks of joining the MPAA.

“Nothing lasts 32 years in a volatile marketplace unless it is providing a benefit to the people it aims to serve, in this case, American parents,” Valenti said. “The rating system has succeeded over time because it has successfully balanced the dual goals of freedom of filmmakers and responsibility to American parents without government intervention.”

It hasn’t been the easiest year for Valenti or the ratings system, however, due to a furor in Congress over the marketing of violent entertainment to kids.

Lawmakers — as well as some in Hollywood — want a new, universal code of conduct for the movie, music and vidgame industries. Breaking ranks with the other studios, the Walt Disney Co. has come out in favor of such a code. So has the Directors Guild of America.

At loggerheads in Washington are Valenti and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. McCain refused to let Valenti sit alongside studio execs called to testify before the committee in late September.Valenti told Daily Variety that he’d like to have a meeting with McCain, with whom he hasn’t spoken since the September fracas.

“He knows if he chooses to see me, I’ll be Johnny-on-the-spot,” Valenti said.

Valenti has confided to colleagues that he fears that a decision to split the R rating into two, as many filmmakers now propose, would open the door to a series of revisionist demands that would make the entire system untenable.

While Valenti is reluctant to play with the ratings, he has drawn up a 12-point MPAA initiative designed to stop the marketing of violent, R-rated movies to kids.

The seven major studios and DreamWorks have signed off on the plan, which has been officially submitted to McCain’s commerce committee.

Regular confabs

Under the plan, Valenti will meet regularly with compliance teams or officers to review marketing plans for violent, R-rated movies.

Initiative furthermore calls for a ban on including kids under 17 in test screenings for such movies and a policy prohibiting the attachment of trailers for R-rated movies to movies rated G or PG. In addition, print advertisements for violent, R-rated movies now include a detailed reason for the rating.

“Do we make errors? Of course we do, but they are errors of judgment, not a lack of integrity,” Valenti said.

Debate over the ratings system isn’t likely to end anytime soon, with McCain’s commerce committee expected to ask the Federal Trade Commission to make sure that Hollywood lives up to its promise to stop targeting kids.

Privately, studio execs say the heated election season is responsible for much of the clamor over the Sept. 11 FTC report on marketing violent entertainment.

Democratic presidential contender Al Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), have repeatedly warned that they would give Hollywood six months to clean up its act or else. Today, Lieberman is expected to send a letter to movie, music and vidgame execs reiterating the warning. A spokesman for the Lieberman/Gore campaign declined comment.

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