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Bill seeks to end marketing adult music to children

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, introduced legislation Thursday aimed at punishing the entertainment industry for marketing products with violent or sexually explicit content to children.

The former Democratic vice presidential candidate and long-time Hollywood watchdog said his bill was written in response to recent Federal Trade Commission reports that a voluntary ratings system for music is being undermined by excessive marketing of adult-rated products to children.

There was no immediate sense of what kind of support the bill might get in the Senate.

The FTC said this week that while film and video-game producers have curbed marketing of adult-content material to young people, the music industry continues targeting under-17 customers with products that have explicit and violent material.

Lieberman, who was joined by Democratic co-sponsors Hillary Clinton of New York and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, insisted his legislation is not akin to censorship because it would give the FTC authority to pursue only companies that voluntarily rate their products as inappropriate for children, yet proceed to market those products directly to minors.

"If you voluntarily label a product as being unsuitable for kids and then turn around and market it directly to kids in contradiction of your ratings system, then you should be held accountable just like any other company in America that misleads consumers," Lieberman said. "That's not censorship. That's common sense."

But Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the legislation attacks freedom of speech and is unconstitutional.

"The government cannot devise and enforce it's own ratings systems. For a variety of First Amendment reasons it just can't be done," Valenti said. "Indeed, the FTC report clearly states there are serious First Amendment problems."

The legislation would allow the FTC to issue a cease-and-desist order or levy fines and against companies that engage in false and deceptive advertising by marketing violent and sexually explicit content to children. Valenti said the legislation would backfire because it would discourage voluntary ratings systems.

"It will put an end to the movie industry's voluntary film rating system because it penalizes those distributors who participate in this voluntary system and gives total immunity from any penalty to a producer or distributor who distributes a film without a rating," he said. But Sen. Clinton warned that any abandonment of voluntary ratings would set off "a reaction on the part of Congress to require labeling."

"If there is a move on the part of anyone to discard this kind of voluntary labeling or to turn their backs on this because finally we're feeling compelled to put some teeth into the enforcement, I think we'd have to take a hard look at that," Clinton said.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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