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Valenti shakes H’wood over violence issue

Industry should operate through self-regulation, topper sez

CANNES — MPAA president Jack Valenti has issued a loud wake-up call to Hollywood, warning the industry that it should be “very concerned” about proposed legislation targeting violence in films.MPAA president Jack Valenti has issued a loud wake-up call to Hollywood, warning the industry that it should be “very concerned” about proposed legislation targeting violence in films.

Speaking to Daily Variety in Cannes on Monday, Valenti continued to preach his message that the industry should be allowed to operate through self-regulation. But in the Senate, he added, pressure is building to tackle the violence issue by adding amendments aimed at Hollywood to a juvenile crime bill now under debate.

Among the proposals already adopted by the Senate is one that would allow the Justice Dept. and Federal Trade Commission to subpoena film marketing material to see whether marketing execs are deliberately targeting violent movies to kids.

Set for debate this week is a second proposal that would create a commission to review the possible regulation by the federal government of violence and pornography in motion pictures. “This would seem to me to be an unconstitutional move,” noted Valenti. “But it certainly reflects the depth of feeling on Capitol Hill.”

A third piece of legislation would make the industry’s voluntary ratings system legally enforceable. “That would mean that if an exhibitor was found to have let an underage person into an R-rated movie, he would be legally liable for his act,” Valenti said.

Before any of these proposals become law, the bill to which they have been attached must be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. It must also receive the signature of President Clinton. The bill’s fate is not at all secure, as it touches on other political issues, including gun control.

Valenti believes the industry should do more to combine its diverse education programs, which are designed in part to confront violence in cinema and television — particularly by calling on parents to accept their role in deciding what films their children see.

Valenti has spent considerable time recently giving testimony on the violence question before both the Senate and the House of Representatives. “There is clearly frustration in Congress over violence in our country,” he said.

Valenti insisted that the film industry is under fire because it’s a relatively easy target, and that tackling the gun lobby is politically thorny.

“These films that people say are so violent are also being watched in Japan, Europe and everywhere in the world. Japan has a very low crime rate; so does Europe, and that’s linked to the fact that they have much tougher gun laws than the United States,” Valenti said. “People say teenagers are becoming violent because they watch violent films. We have 70 million teenagers in the States; less than half of 1% are involved in armed violence.”

In Clinton’s nationwide radio address Saturday, he challenged purveyors of violent movies to accept shared responsibility for such painful events as the recent Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo.

Senior Hollywood execs such as Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin and Seagram boss Edgar Bronfman Jr. have said that Washington is using the violence-in-media issue to gain political popularity.