Biden's proposals could divide entertainment lobbyists

Entertainment lobbyists are waiting to see what if any of President Obama’s series of recommendations on gun violence will touch upon content in movies, TV and videogames. The industry is preparing for what could be a protracted debate fraught with many different players and conflicting agendas.

Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden are scheduled to appear at an event this morning to unveil a package of proposals, which White House spokesman Jay Carney said will be a “comprehesive approach.” In In addition to a series of executive actions and legislative proposals having to do with the availability and access to guns, such as banning high-capacity magazine clips and closing background check loopholes, his proposals will also include steps for improving school safety and mental health care, as well as recommendations for addressing violence in entertainment and videogames, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Following meetings that Biden’s task force held last week, there has been talk of some kind of a voluntary industry effort on media violence, sources said, with Biden suggesting that the issue would continue to be in the spotlight for some time. It’s unclear just what those steps would be, and such a plan would be an extensive exercise in getting many different media players on the same page.

Biden’s 2 1/2-hour meeting with showbiz reps last Thursday, held in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building down the hall from his office, was described by industry sources as a frank discussion in which each of the dozen or so industry representatives outlined what had been done so far, including the voluntary ratings system and public service announcements.

Biden started that meeting talking about the task force’s process of holding meetings with individual groups, from gun control advocates to mental health professionals.

There was back and forth. Biden was not scolding or scapegoating, but at times he did offer some of his own opinions about violence on screen, sources said. Some participants said there was a fair degree of candor, perhaps because some of those in the room were his former Senate colleagues, like MPAA chairman Chris Dodd and National Assn. of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith, in addition to those who have known him for some time.

Biden said that reps from the industry offered “constructive ideas.” There also was discussion about content on the Internet, where video by and large is not subject to voluntary ratings and parental controls are more difficult to put in place. A source said Biden also suggested that “moving forward there would be attention on this issue,” and asked the industry reps for suggestions on “what they could do that would have a positive impact” on reducing gun violence.

There also was some effort among reps to make sure the entertainment meeting on Thursday evening was kept separate from Biden’s meeting with the videogame industry on Friday, underscoring the passive nature of watching movies and TV shows versus the interactivity of games, where the focus has been on the availability of first-person shooter titles, sources said.

Longtime critics of media violence, such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), have focused on videogames in their calls for action following the Newtown, Conn., shootings, and have called for a comprehensive study to be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. Biden, however, said at the start of the videogame meeting that he was coming in with “no judgment.”

Nevertheless, even after the White House proposals are unveiled, the debate could very well veer much more toward media violence, as it has in the past, making for some much more complicated dynamics as the industry defends its creative freedom.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), said Monday that its oversight subcommittee would look at a variety of issues within its jurisdiction. The National Rifle Assn. has called for more scrutiny of violent videogames and movies, as its spokesman Wayne LaPierre blasted the entertainment industry in the org’s first press event following the Newtown shootings. And already, there are grumblings among gun rights advocates that the White House will not pay serious attention to media violence, given the entertainment industry’s heavy financial support of Obama’s reelection.

But the fact that the issue of gun violence is still being discussed, whereas it has fallen by the wayside in the weeks after past tragedies, was viewed by some gun control advocates that a level of public support will be there for firearms legislation. News Corp. chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch added to the chorus of voices on Tuesday. “Hopefully we’ll get some real actions on guns tomorrow, not just some stage-managed stunt,” he said in a Tweet. “This is federal imperative, not for states.”

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