Senators Eye Probe of Ad Violence

Lieberman, Hatch Raise Specter of Subpoenas Last Seen for Tobacco
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Companies who advertise violent movies, video games and music could become the target of a joint investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, in a bid to curb such messages aimed at kids.
Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing May 4 that companies promoting violent entertainment products to children are in violation of their own voluntary industry rating system.
Though the videogame industry has a ratings system similar to the one used on movies, Hatch said ads for adults-only games often appear in game magazines read by children and Sports Illustrated for Kids. “Many Americans were justifiably outraged when it was discovered that tobacco companies marketed cigarettes to children,” Hatch said. “I believe that we should be equally concerned if we find that violent music and video games are being marketed to children.”
Hatch this week will introduce an amendment to the Repeat Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act, which would direct the two government bureaus to investigate. Hatch and Lieberman believe the the government has the power to subpoena internal marketing documents–as it did in the tobacco investigation.
The proposals follow reports from the Columbine high school massacre indicating that the two teenage shooters often played the videogame Doom. Id Software, the creator of Doom and Quake, declined comment.
Todd Tilford, creative director at Pyro in Dallas, which handled Doom and Quake until last year, called the uproar “insane.” Congress is “looking under the wrong rock. They are going for the easy, shallow solutions when they should be looking deeper.”
Ad lobby groups said there is no evidence that companies are deliberately targeting violent material at kids. “It would be unfortunate if federal subpoena powers would be used to go on a fishing expedition,” said Jeff Perlman, a senior vice president with the American Advertising Federation.
Hatch is also proposing to exempt some industries from certain antitrust laws, allowing them to collaborate on enforcing rules and sanctions.
Whether the FTC has the authority to prohibit violent content in ads targeted at kids when there is no existing law–as there was with tobacco–remains undetermined. An FTC representative said the question is “very complex,” but declined to elaborate.
Also troubling to advertisers and media buyers last week was the resurrection of a bill from Congress’s V-chip debates that would restrict violent content to late-night slots.
“You have to watch out that you don’t go from very reasonable concern about protecting children to a place where you end up censoring what adults can see,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.