WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Lieberman met with movie studio officials Wednesday and told them the entertainment industry hasn't lived up to its pledge to quit marketing violent and sexually explicit material to children.
Lieberman, D-Conn., said he would introduce a bill next week to give the Federal Trade Commission authority to fine companies for such advertising.
Through a spokesman, Lieberman said he's following through on a pledge he made last year as a vice presidential candidate to propose a law if the industry fails to regulate itself. That promise came after an FTC report that found children are targeted by advertising for adult-oriented movies, music and video games. The FTC called for better self-regulation.
"The movie industry has not gone as far as the FTC has recommended," Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said. "The music industry has done nothing. He feels there's a vacuum and that we have no choice."
Lieberman is a longtime critic of the entertainment industry. He faced criticism last year by some who said he had softened his stance because Hollywood donors gave lots of money to Al Gore's presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.
The movie, television and music industries contributed $24 million to the Democratic Party in the past election cycle, compared to $14 million for Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The White House did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A spokesman for the FTC said he cannot comment because he has not seen Lieberman's proposal.
Gerstein said Lieberman still would be willing to pull back the bill if the industry offers a plan for policing itself.
"If they don't, we'll do what we can to pass this legislation into law," Gerstein said.
Lieberman announced his plans during a meeting in Beverly Hills with Motion Picture Association of America officials, including CEO Jack Valenti.
Valenti told Lieberman that his proposed bill would face First Amendment challenges, according to Motion Picture Association of America spokesman Rich Taylor. Valenti read from a letter written last year by FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, who acknowledged there are free speech concerns to such regulation.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., held hearings in response to the FTC report. Valenti had testified and acknowledged movie executives were wrong to show R-rated movies to focus groups that included children as young as 10, but said the industry could police itself.
Studios agreed to 12 initiatives to improve the movie rating system, including each studio hiring a compliance officer to make sure they follow through.
The FTC is scheduled to release a follow-up report assessing the success of the initiatives, possibly as early as next week.