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FTC Report Spurs Warnng From MPAA Prez

With the Hollywood-Washington war expected to be reignited today, Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti on Monday warned lawmakers in no uncertain terms to back off.

“May God save the First Amendment,” Valenti said during a keynote speech before the National Assn. of Broadcasters, which is meeting here for its annual confab.

Valenti, like his counterparts in the music biz, was gearing up for the release this morning of a Federal Trade Commission report that will chart how well the entertainment biz has done in stopping the marketing of violent or suggestive fare to kids.

The FTC reportedly has concluded that Hollywood studios have done much of what they promised in terms of marketing reforms, although no one outside the FTC has yet seen the entire report. Capitol Hill aides were briefed late last week by FTC staff.

On the downside, the FTC says the movie biz should use bigger type when printing rating explanations in movie ads, said one Hollywood exec who received a preliminary, unofficial briefing. Also, some movie Web sites need better ratings information.

Hollywood lobbyists were not expecting a stamp of excellence from the FTC and were preparing for some studios to be cited for violating marketing reforms.

The music biz, meanwhile, can expect to take a pounding, according to a Capitol Hill lobbyist.

“It will be very, very harsh on the music industry. The FTC clobbers these guys,” the lobbyist said. “The movie guys come off favorably, in the sense that at least they did what they said they were going to do.”

FTC will find the music biz accomplished few of the reforms it promised last fall, when the agency’s initial report came out blasting the movie, music and vidgame industries for going around their own voluntary ratings system.

Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy-CEO Hilary Rosen issued a statement on Monday saying the recording industry in no way reneged on its promises. She said the industry unequivocally supports the clear labeling of explicit material.

No entertainment exec – whether they’re off the hook or not – was looking forward to yet another chapter in the book of anti-Hollywood rhetoric.

Studio lobbyists predicted Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) will use today’s news to introduce legislation giving the FTC limited authority to go after Hollywood for deceptive advertising. The politico will lump the movies in with music, saying the entertainment industry in general has to be stopped.

It’s not clear whether Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who commissioned the FTC update, will hold hearings on the monitoring report. He chairs the influential Senate Commerce Committee. There’s some speculation that Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who chairs the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, may hold hearings on the music industry.

In his Las Vegas speech, Valenti told broadcasters there are people both in Washington and in Hollywood who act like “Druid priests,” believing they are wiser than wise, forgetting that little thing called freedom of speech.

“Never let your guard down. Never be beguiled by delusive enticements offered and advertised as cures for disabled culture, which a circle of critics both define and condemn,” Valenti said.

“There is no right more crucial to the sustenance of liberty than the right to speak up, to speak out, to tell a story, compose a song, write a book, paint a picture, create a TV program, make a movie the way the creative artist chooses,” Valenti said.

Good news

In what would certainly be good news for Valenti and record industry leaders, the FTC apparently says in its update that voluntary ratings and labeling systems still are the best answer.

Like the MPAA ratings system, the RIAA has a well-established, voluntary labeling system for suggestive lyrics that includes parental advisories.

Around the time the first FTC report came out, the RIAA said it would launch a new initiative regarding the advertising of labeled music in certain media where a large chunk of the audience is 17 and under.

The RIAA – which staunchly defends its existing labeling system as effective – said the initiative became too problematic to carry out.

In detailed correspondence with the FTC this spring, the RIAA explained that the advertising initiative for certain media had been pulled because it could potentially make labels legally liable. Such liability would undermine the voluntary parental advisory program, the RIAA letter stated.

RIAA – which made its FTC correspondence available Monday – also told the FTC it had considered making lyric sheets available for parents, but that proposal has copyright ramifications. Trade org said many Web sites already make the lyrics available, should parents want to check them out.

Also, the RIAA has encouraged record companies to promote a Web site where parents can learn what various labels and ratings mean.

The RIAA launched its parental advisory program in 1985, labeling music with violent or sexually explicit lyrics.

Danny Goldberg, a music industry veteran who testified at congressional hearings on entertainment marketing last September, was reluctant to pass judgment on the FTC’s views before they’re made public. Nevertheless, he warned that any Draconian efforts by government to censor lyrics would likely face tough hurdles.

“I’m a little baffled by what they can even say about the music business,” he said. “The record industry has been advising parents with stickers indicating profanity for years; I don’t know how else you would categorize words.”

Any efforts to implement a uniform ratings standard for music, along the lines of the MPAA’s ratings system, would face practical difficulties due to the nature of the content, he added.

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