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Valenti, CEOs talk violence

Juvenile justice bill, biz critics draw H'w'd leaders to summit

WASHINGTON — The moguls topping Hollywood’s major studios may not have shown up for the May 10 White House session on youth violence, but they are expected today in Burbank, where MPAA prexy Jack Valenti is having his own private CEO summit.

Sources at several companies confirmed that the top execs at their respective studios will attend the meeting, but the Motion Picture Assn. has refused to release a list of RSVPs for the meeting or even the names of those who are invited.

Since the April 20 shootings in Littleton, Colo., Valenti has been busy fighting a political backlash in Washington, where many are blaming the entertainment industry for inciting the nation’s youth by creating a popular culture that celebrates violence.

Bill targets guns, pics

The CEO summit in Burbank comes just three days after the Senate approved a juvenile justice bill that cracks down on guns sales, but also includes a series of provisions aimed at the entertainment industry, including one ordering the Justice Dept. and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Hollywood’s marketing practices to children. Several legislators said they suspect that the entertainment industry, including record companies and the manufacturers of videogames, label products as adult-oriented yet market them heavily to children.

In addition, the bill would create an antitrust exemption enabling studios, television programmers and others to negotiate a common code of conduct, setting ground rules on violence depicted in television and movies.

Rhetorical questions

Although an MPAA spokesman refused to comment on the substance of today’s meeting, Valenti may use it to encourage studio chiefs and even their bosses to back off on their fiery anti-Washington rhetoric.

Corporate titans such as Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin and Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. have insisted that the entertainment industry’s output is not a factor in the violent behavior of kids. They blame Washington for trying to use Hollywood as a scapegoat.

While many studies have shown a link between violent images on television and in movies and kids’ behavior, Republicans bashing Hollywood on the Senate floor are also motivated by an interest in distracting their colleagues from pushing through tougher gun control laws. So far the Republican effort has not met with much success, as the Senate passed, via the juvenile justice bill, some of the toughest gun control legislation in a decade.

Targeting Bronfman

But in the meantime, key Republicans are attacking industry leaders like Bronfman as prime examples of Hollywood insensitivity. Bronfman has drawn fire ever since he decided to attend the bow of a new theme park attraction in Florida instead of heading to the White House for the May 10 summit on youth violence. Adding fuel to the fire, Bronfman has accused Washington of “finger-pointing” and “chest-pounding” on violence issues.

Speaking on the Senate floor, powerful Senate Budget Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said that Bronfman is guilty of more than “facile cynicism” and “mercenary spirit,” declaring that Bronfman’s statements are the “cry of those who have thrown aside all notions of good and evil and who merely want the rest of us to let them be.”

In contrast to Bronfman and Levin, many creatives, such as Joel Schumacher, Rob Reiner, Gary Ross and Creative Coalition prexy William Baldwin, have said that Hollywood needs to take a close look at how its product affects the nation’s kids.

The action in Washington is now shifting to the House, which is expected to soon begin debate on its own version of the juvenile justice bill.