WASHINGTON — Sen. Joseph Lieberman, acknowledging limited support for his bill to regulate the entertainment industry's marketing of sex and violence to kids, said yesterday he is cranking up his recruiting efforts.
"I'm not kidding myself. The entertainment industry is a powerful force," said Lieberman, D-Conn. "We're fighting uphill here. But it's an important battle, and it's got to be waged."
The Media Marketing and Accountability Act would direct the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the music, movie and television industries as it does other businesses that engage in false and deceptive advertising. Entertainment companies found to be marketing adult material to minors would be subject to fines.
Lieberman has just three Senate co-sponsors, all Democrats. But he said the House introduction of his bill yesterday gives "new momentum and new strength."
Freshman Reps. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y., are the House sponsors. Lieberman said the support of Osborne, the former University of Nebraska football coach, shows bipartisanship and should encourage others.
Better known Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Sam Brownback of Kansas, joined Lieberman last year in calling for an FTC investigation of the industry. He said they should support him now and said he sent Senate colleagues a letter asking them to join.
"We see no reason why the solution we're proposing should be any less bipartisan than all that has preceded it," he said.
Lieberman said he had also written President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, asking them to support the bill.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said the issue is important, but offered no support.
"Like most Americans, the president is disturbed by the amount of violence, sex and substance abuse our children are exposed to in the entertainment industry," he said.
As for the letter, he added, "I'm not sure it's made its way through the proper channels."
Lieberman's Senate co-sponsors are Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton of New York and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
Lieberman has long been a critic of the entertainment industry, though as former Vice President Al Gore's running mate last year he was accused of softening that position to avoid offending big Democratic Party donors.
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 FTC report and a recent follow-up found the music, television and movie industries have failed to regulate themselves through voluntary rating systems. The industries disagree, saying they're working on improvements.
Critics say the bill violates First Amendment freedoms and predict the industries would remove their voluntary rating systems altogether rather than face government review.
"The end result of this bill would be less information for parents about entertainment and an intrusion on the Constitution," said Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Earlier this week, the Creative Coalition, a group of politically active celebrities, sent a letter urging the four Senate sponsors to drop their support of the bill, saying it threatens the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that a group of medical and child development experts sent a letter this week asking Congress and the entertainment industry to craft a new rating system that would include movie, television, music and video games and an independent group to oversee it.
The letter, signed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and a dozen other groups, called the current rating system "an alphabet soup … confusing to parents," the Post reported.