WASHINGTON — Entertainment industry lobbyists, including studio, broadcasting and cable reps, joined together Thursday to hold off a proposal by Sen. Ernest Hollings to ban violent programming on television during times when kids could be watching.
The South Carolina Democrat’s so-called “safe harbor” amendment is the latest in a stream of anti-entertainment industry legislation offered for inclusion in the Juvenile Justice bill now under debate in the Senate. But unlike proposals approved Wednesday, the Hollings amendment lost 60-39.
Entertainment industry sources say they went all out to defeat it in the heated atmosphere here where legislators are working overtime to come up with any proposal that appears to be a response to last month’s massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co.
One lobbyist said there are significant differences between the package approved by the Senate Wednesday in a 98-0 vote and the Hollings bill, defeated after critics labeled it a violation of the First Amendment. “It’s one thing to look at whether there is some improper marketing going on, it’s another to tell us how to program,” said one broadcast industry executive.
Entertainment lobbyists also complained that the Hollings bill violated an informal 1996 agreement between Congress and broadcasters, producers and cablers whereby they agreed to implement the TV ratings in exchange for a cease fire on legislation.
That deal was denounced on the floor of the Senate Thursday by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) Dorgan insisted that he was never part of any deal and neither were 90% of the rest of the Senate.
A joint statement released by the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Assoc. and the Motion Picture Assn. of America read, “We remain committed to the TV ratings system that is in place today and to moving forward with the implementation of the V-chip that will be available in new TV this July.”
The V-chip will allow television sets to be programmed to block shows rated for violent or sexual content.
Deal or no deal, Wednesday’s approved package calls for a joint Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department investigation into entertainment and gun industry marketing practices. Legislators say they want to know if violence is being used to attract children. They specifically want to know if studios are marketing “R” rated movies to children under 17.
At a House hearing Thursday on youth violence, Judiciary Committee members asked a panel of teenagers if they were able to buy tickets to “R” rated movies unaccompanied by an adult. Three of the four said at least one theater in their hometowns sold tickets to teenagers without checking ages.
The legislation also calls for a National Institute of Health Study on the impact of violent entertainment on the behavior of young people. It also would grant an antitrust exemption to all sectors of the entertainment industry to create a common “code of conduct” for fictional behavior portrayed on movie and television screens.
The political dynamic is complicated by jousting between Democrats and Republicans over the gun control issue. Republicans are trying to sidetrack Democratic proposals to toughen gun control laws by pointing at violent movies, television shows and video games as the real instigators of youth violence.
The MPAA’s Jack Valenti expressed particular frustration with a Senate decision to block efforts to tighten the sale of firearms at gun shows while approving proposals to crack down on Hollywood.
“To observe the Senate yesterday where amendment after amendment pointed at the movie industry, while at the same time a most modest anti-gun amendment was defeated was to be a character in a Parandello Play — it was very bizarre,” said Valenti.
Worried about a political backlash, the Senate reversed direction Thursday and held a second vote which approved tighter controls on gun shows.