No 'neat, easy, clear answer,' ex-prexy sez

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NEW YORK — Former president Bill Clinton has for the first time endorsed a controversial call for the entertainment industry to develop a universal ratings code for content, saying there is strong evidence that violent content harms kids.

Responding to questions after his speech here at Variety‘s Front Row entertainment conference, Clinton offered his take on a government report that concluded the movie, music, TV and videogame industries aggressively market violence to kids.

The former president himself ordered the Federal Trade Commission study, which was released last fall, and caused outrage on Capitol Hill. During the last few months of his tenure, he remained largely silent on the issue.

Clinton told the Front Row participants that sustained, systematic exposure to violence at an early age can desensitize children to its impact. He said that combining what are already reasonably good ratings systems — he mentioned the MPAA’s movie code and the music biz’s labeling system — would help parents better monitor what their kids are exposed to.

“I don’t think there is any neat, easy, clear answer,” Clinton said.

He said his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) always nagged him for watching action movies, featuring the likes of Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Entertainment toppers have resisted developing a universal code, saying their individual, self-enforced ratings systems are sufficient.

Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti, who devised the MPAA’s movie ratings system more than 30 years ago, has continued to argue that it would be unwieldy to bring together all the different industries.

Clinton made a point of saying he had never been in favor of government regulating content. But he warned that it was important that Hollywood deal with the issue.

“We just have too much evidence that violence is a problem,” Clinton said.

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