Congress Tells Music World To Change Its Tune

By | July 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM

The U.S. music industry came under attack in Congress on Friday over the marketing of lewd and violent songs to children, in a testy culture clash between politicians and the entertainment industry.

Music industry representative Hilary Rosen was pelted with a barrage of criticism from Republican congressmen in particular, with one labeling her testimony as “shameless” to a hearing of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

The hearing was called to look at the entertainment world’s efforts to curb children’s exposure to violent content, but the film and video game industry largely escaped the blasting given to music companies, the bad boys of entertainment.

At one point, Rosen, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, was asked to read out some violent, sexually graphic lyrics from Grammy Award winning artist Eminem’s song “Kill You.”

“That’s exactly what I expected,” said Rep. Barbara Cubin, a Republican from Wyoming, when Rosen declined to read the song, which talks about blood, guts, raping his own mother, abusing a whore, and taking cocaine.

“I did not want to embarrass you but then I thought if people don’t know what we are really talking about, it is easy for you to sanitize,” Cubin said of the song lyrics.

ADVISORY LABELS CITED

Rosen, whose association represents more than 600 record companies, shot back it was not her job to defend the content of the song. But she pointed out this album had an “advisory” label on it, warning parents of its graphic content.

Republican members on the panel urged Rosen repeatedly to encourage music companies to be more specific in labeling “offensive” songs and not to market them to kids.

The industry slaps a parental advisory label on music if it contains foul language, violent or sexually explicit lyrics. Some members want the industry to have a more detailed rating system, much like the movie industry.

But Rosen said such specific labeling was impractical, equating songs to books, which are not rated.

“Words are particularly subject to interpretation and imagination and most feel that labeling books is a bad idea.”

Lyrics, she argued, were interpreted differently. For example, Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and Eric Clapton’s version of “I Shot The Sheriff” had different meanings depending on who heard them.

Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma, a Republican, said parents faced a daily assault from the entertainment industry and Rosen’s testimony and her defense of Eminem was “shameless.”

“For you to give testimony to defend that (Eminem’s song) is shameless to me and I don’t understand it,” he said.

Members of Congress complained some advisory labels on CDs were covered over by price tags and so parents were not aware that they contained explicit content.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report last September in which it accused the entire entertainment industry of “routinely and aggressively” selling sexually explicit and violent films, video games and songs to children.

A follow-up report in April noted some improvements in the movie and electronic games sectors but found music companies still continued the practice,

Bills have been introduced both in the House and the Senate to outlaw “deceptive marketing” of adult-rated music, films and games the children, but neither have drawn widespread support because of concerns they violate free speech rights.

FTC associate director of advertising practices, Lee Peeler, told the hearing the Commission believed self-regulation, not legislation, was the best approach and more needed to be done by each sector of the industry.

At the Senate’s request, the FTC is doing another report, set to be issued later this year. This will include results of an undercover shopping survey and a review of industry compliance after last September’s report.

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