Report: Explicit Music Marketed to Children

Record companies are continuing to peddle music with explicit lyrics to children, according to a new report by government regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission says the recording industry "has not visibly responded" to its calls to stop targeting violent and sexually explicit material to underage consumers, even as movie and video game companies "improved and enhanced" their marketing practices.

"Unfortunately, the music industry response, at least so far, has been disappointing in its failure to institute positive reforms," FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said in a statement.

First Study Was Ordered After Columbine

The 47-page report released today is a follow-up to a study commissioned in 1999 by then-President Clinton in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo. The resulting report, released last fall, harshly criticized entertainment companies for routinely marketing explicit films, games and music to minors, and appealed to the industries to police themselves more aggressively.

Today's so-called snapshot report says the music industry has been particularly defiant.

"The Commission's review makes clear that industry members continue to advertise explicit content recordings in magazines or on television programs with substantial under-17 audiences," the report says.

David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, said the industry's actions amount to a "poke in the eye" of parents of young children.

"The recording industry … has done nothing more than kind of give a poke in the eye," he said. "They seem to be very reluctant or resistant to try and do anything to really kind of help parents do a better job of monitoring the media diet of their kids."

"There's no defiance here," insisted Hillary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "These are artists, creative works and people have a right to express themselves artistically and creatively."

But on Capitol Hill, some politicians are now saying that if the entertainment industries can't or won't effectively regulate themselves, the federal government should step in.

"They can produce whatever they want. That is their First Amendment right, God Bless them," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a longtime critic of entertainment industries. "But they shouldn't sell music that they rate as inappropriate for children to children."

Lieberman, last year's Democratic vice-presidential nominee, plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would empower the FTC to levy fines against companies that market adult material to young children.

'Labels Are Enough'

Music recording companies are staunchly opposed to the kind of government regulation being advocated by Lieberman and others.

"Most Americans want to make these decisions for themselves and don't really want the government to do it for them," said Rosen. "I don't think legislation in this area is either practical or, in principle, a good idea for the country."

And Rosen insists that the industry is already doing all it can to try to keep music with violent or sexually explicit language out of the hands of youngsters.

"Where there are explicit lyrics or explicit themes, parents are warned," she said, referring to the parental advisory warnings recording companies voluntarily place on records, cassettes and compact discs containing explicit material. "I think the labels are enough."

In an undercover FTC study last year, however, children ages 13-16 attempting to purchase recordings bearing the warning labels were successful 85 percent of the time. And today's FTC report says the majority of advertisements for explicit music on television, in print and on the Internet, do not contain parental warnings.

While harshly criticizing the record industry, the commission praised motion picture and video game companies for making "some progress" in reducing the marketing of mature material to underage audiences.

The study found, for example, no ads for M-rated games and virtually no ads for R-rated films in a review of popular teen magazines. In contrast, the commission said, all five major recording companies "routinely" advertised music with explicit content in magazines with substantial under-17 readerships.

The report also criticized the industry for advertising explicit music on after-school television shows popular with teens.