WASHINGTON — Eminem's Grammy-winning, but often profane, lyrics came under congressional criticism late last week as lawmakers considered how to deal with violence in entertainment without violating the First Amendment.
"Madonna seems tame and lame compared to Eminem," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., at a July 20 House subcommittee hearing examining efforts by the entertainment industry to curb children's exposure to violent material.
The controversial rapper wasn't on Capitol Hill to defend his songs, but recording and movie industry heads argued for him that music, video games and movies should be policed by parents, not politicians.
Entertainment executives said their current labeling systems, which warn parents of explicit language or content, are sufficient regulation.
"We do our best to try to give parents some guidelines to help them make decisions," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Pictures Association of America.
Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would prohibit the targeted marketing to minors of adult-rated records, movies, video games and other entertainment material.
Critics of the entertainment industry complained that Hollywood isn't doing enough to keep certain types of entertainment out of the hands of children. They cited recent reports by the Federal Trade Commission that said the industry, especially the music industry, needs to do more.
"The response of all three industries has been woefully inadequate," said Daphne White, executive director of the Lion and Lamb Project, a group working to stop the advertising of violence to children.
Hilary B. Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said parents overwhelmingly support the record labeling system, and that there is not much more the industry can do without infringing on an artist's First Amendment rights.
While lawmakers agreed that freedom of speech must be protected, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said "the government has an obligation to do something, to intervene."
But Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., warned against government censorship and the Media Accountability Act of 2001, which would direct the FTC to penalize entertainment companies that market adult material to minors.
"It is a dangerous bill," Harman said.
Some lawmakers suggested the recording industry could adopt more specific labels, like those used by the movie and video games industries. They also said that the music industry could lobby retailers to better patrol who they sell to.
"The current one-size-fits-all labeling system for music could be expanded to provide additional information about the content consumers can expect to hear," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rosen disagreed. "In the visual picture you can make gradations you can't do in music," she said.
The FTC reports on marketing violent entertainment to children were requested by former President Clinton after the 1999 shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 15 dead.
The studies — the first released last September; the second in April — found that the entertainment industry targeted teen-agers by advertising in the places most watched and read by people under 17.
In the April report, the FTC said the movie and video games industries had changed some of their advertising practices and improved their labeling. The music industry received low marks in that report.
The FTC will issue another report in the fall.