Lieberman 'Marketing Accountability' Bill Picks Up Steam

Representatives, Clinton ditto senator's call to penalize record labels marketing adult-rated products to kids.

Connecticut Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman took his beef with the entertainment business to the White House Thursday (June 21), calling on President Bush to support legislation that would severely penalize record labels for marketing music with "parental advisory" stickers to kids.

The former vice-presidential candidate, who introduced the "Media Marketing Accountability Act" in the Senate in April, sent a letter to the president the same day a pair of U.S. representatives proposed an identical bill in the House.

"This is something all of us … Republicans and Democrats — entertainment industry CEOs and parents … should be able to agree on: it is wrong to market adult-rated products to children behind the backs of their parents," the letter read.

The bill would prohibit companies from marketing adult-rated movies, stickered music and mature-rated video games to minors, authorizing the FTC to issue a cease-and-desist order or level $11,000-per-day fines for each violation.

According to the letter, the bill's sponsors believe that while industry self-regulation is the best solution, those efforts have come up short. "There is no substitute for involved parenting," the letter said. "But sometimes parents need help, and that is the aim of our bill."

While the act's supporters say the bill has nothing to do with free speech, detractors argue it would threaten artists' rights to create without fear of government censorship.

"Some in the industry will frame this as a First Amendment issue," Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said in a statement issued Thursday. Israel, along with co-sponsor Nebraska Republican Tom Osborne, co-signed Lieberman's letter, which also was sent to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"But for them, it isn't about protecting speech, it's about protecting profits," the statement continued. "(The Constitution) doesn't give anyone the right to target our children and undermine their parents in the search for higher profits."

The bill immediately drew fire from the Creative Coalition, an entertainment lobbying group. "The suggestion that the government could directly or indirectly decide what is 'acceptable' entertainment for any American is unacceptable and dangerous," read a letter to Lieberman signed by more than 50 artists and entertainment executives, including Recording Industry Association of America head Hilary Rosen and Artemis Records CEO Danny Goldberg.

"This bill goes far beyond empowering parents," the coalition's letter said. "The proposed legislation would essentially regulate the marketing of entertainment in such a way that the government would, in effect, have enormous clout on the kind of entertainment that is produced."

Lieberman's bill — co-sponsored by Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Robert Byrd of West Virginia — proposes the same regulations and penalties (see "Advertising Stickered CDs To Young Audiences Could Get Costly").

Both Lieberman's letter and a statement from Israel and Osborne refer to an FTC study earlier this year that found albums by Ja Rule, Blink-182 and Crazy Town being advertised in magazines or on TV shows aimed at kids (see "Blink-182, Crazy Town Too Explicit for Kids, Report Says").

On May 29, outgoing FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky expressed his support for the act in a letter to Lieberman. "I think we all appreciate the First Amendment pitfalls of legislation in these areas," Pitofsky wrote, adding that he felt Lieberman's proposal had "the best chance of surviving judicial review of any proposed legislation I have seen."