Statement of Chairman Robert Pitofsky
Senate Commerce Committee
September 13, 2000
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you Chairman McCain and the Senate Commerce Committee. Members of the Committee have been strong supporters of the Federal Trade Commission generally, and have shown a keen interest in our report on whether the movie, music recording and electronic game industries market to young people products that contain violent content in a way that undermines the ratings they themselves apply to their products.
As you know from the report, for each of the three industry segments, target marketing to children of entertainment products with violent content is pervasive and aggressive. Each industry rates or labels certain material as warranting parental control or as inappropriate for young people, but at the same time, each markets those very products to young people.
I also want to quote from two documents I find particularly disturbing:
One document dealt with a movie that was a sequel to one rated R, where the marketing group expected the sequel to be R-rated as well. The document said, "there is evidence to suggest that attendance at the original movie dipped down to the age of 10. Therefore, it seems to make sense to interview 10 to 11 year-olds as well."
A second document involving a video game referred to a target market as "males 17 - 34 due to M rating" and then in parentheses stated: "(the true target is males 12 - 34)." Yet other documents indicate plans to promote age-restricted products at boys and girls clubs and a local youth basketball game, among other places.
These are not isolated statements. To the contrary, the extent and, in some instances, brazenness of the marketing to children reflected in these company documents is striking. Obviously, concerns about such directed marketing are heightened by the results of our own surveys indicating that retailers do not adequately restrict access to age-restricted or labeled products, making their purchase by children relatively easy.
We cannot help but be concerned about the marketing of products containing violent content. Scholars and observers generally agree that exposure to violent content alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act. But we are mindful of the question Sissela Bok raised in her book Mayhem about violence on television:
Studies indicate that there is some correlation between exposure to violent materials and aggressive attitudes and insensitivity to violence. That correlation -- and a desensitization to violence that we all sense --demands that we stop and consider the wisdom if not propriety of the target marketing to children that our report uncovered.
It seems to me unacceptable to continue a process in which advertisers and marketers seek new and more efficient ways to market materials they or their industry regards as violent to an underage audience. Such practices undermine parental warnings and bring into question the fundamental credibility of the rating and labeling systems.
The question is: What is to be done?
The Commission report stresses that policy decisions must be carefully considered to avoid regulating in a way that is inconsistent with First Amendment protections for speech. That is why we have emphasized from the beginning our preference for industry self-regulation, and have indicated a willingness to work with industry leaders to improve their present self-regulatory codes. We have been encouraged by some constructive reforms introduced by each of the three industries in the last year. Just yesterday, the Walt Disney Company announced new policies that appear to be constructive steps in the right direction.
I believe these industries should be given a reasonable period of time to consider whether they are ready to commit to effective self-regulation. Industry codes that are not worth the paper they are written on will not be acceptable. Also, self-regulatory arrangements must apply not just to the companies that produce these entertainment materials but to various distributors and retailers.
If self-regulation does not provide an adequate answer, I see no choice but to explore law enforcement under present statutes - for example my own agency's basic statute that declares deceptive or unfair acts and practices in commerce to be illegal. A legal challenge under our present statute to marketing in a way that is inconsistent with the industry trade associations' rating would involve a new and untested initiative and I have asked the staff of our agency to examine the pros and cons of any such approach.
If it turns out that self-regulation does not solve these problems and that current law is inadequate, legislation, respectful of the First Amendment, should be considered.
By adopting rating codes, these three industries recognize their responsibility to give parents the information they want and need to monitor children's exposure to violent entertainment materials. The challenge now is to make those rating processes effective.