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Thursday, September 14, 2000

Entertainment field
must clean up its act

Bullet The issue: The Federal Trade Commission has exposed the entertainment industry's targeting of adult material to children.
Bullet Our view: The report is helpful in alerting parents to the problem and should bring pressure on the industry to make changes in marketing strategy, but not through government regulation.

PEDDLING adult material to children is hardly consistent with the entertainment industry's voluntary code to inform parents of sexual and violent content. A Federal Trade Commission report exposing such practices should bring pressure on the industry to change its ways, but not government controls that would violate the industry's First Amendment rights.

The FTC reported that movies rated R, requiring an adult to accompany children under 17 to the theater, and video games carrying an M rating for 17 and over are routinely targeted to younger people. Television advertising for such movies and video games has been intentionally aimed at underage audiences.

"The younger the audience, the more likely they are to be influenced by TV advertising," said a document that brazenly disclosed one company's efforts at marketing M-rated video games.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, said, "This practice is outrageous, it is deceptive and it has got to stop." Lieberman reiterated a pledge by the Gore campaign to crack down on the industry if it doesn't shape up in six months, perhaps by prosecuting it for false advertising.

However, a crackdown in legislation or an executive order would carry Big Brother implications and threaten the industry's freedom of expression.

Such government retaliation also may not be needed. Walt Disney Co. responded to the FTC report by quickly changing its policies to lessen exposure of sex and violence to children.

Disney said it would prohibit theater owners from showing trailers for R-rated films before movies released under the Walt Disney label. The Disney-owned ABC network will not accept commercials for R-rated films during prime time before 9 p.m. Disney also said it will urge theaters to enforce age restrictions for movies released under its Touchtone, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films labels.

Pressure may be needed for other producers of movies, video games and music to reduce the marketing of inappropriate entertainment to young people.

In that respect, the FTC report was valuable in alerting parents to the entertainment industry's unsavory marketing practices. Parents -- not the government -- should retain the primary responsibility for determining the material to which their children are exposed.

Hong Kong elections

Bullet The issue: The biggest pro-Beijing party scored modest gains in Hong Kong's legislative elections.
Bullet Our view: The results may reflect restraint by China in exerting control over the former British colony.

IN the second legislative elections since the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the biggest pro-Beijing party scored modest gains, indicating a growing acceptance of the territory's new status. This may be credited in part to restraint by China in exerting its authority, in accordance with the terms of the turnover agreement with Britain.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong increased its popular support from about 25 percent of the vote two years ago to almost 30 percent. The improvement was achieved despite an influence-peddling scandal involving one of the party's leaders.

The focus of the scandal, Gary Cheng, was forced to resign his post as a vice chairman of the party amid charges that he leaked secret government documents to a public relations client -- companies owned by Li Ka-shing, a tycoon who controls much of the economy. Cheng won a seat in the legislature in Sunday's elections nevertheless.

Party officials said they would continue an internal inquiry into the Cheng affair but haven't said whether they would seek his resignation from the legislature, as critics have demanded.

The number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council has been increased from 20 to 24 out of 60. The rest are filed by various business groups and an elite electoral committee, which limits the legislature's independence. However, pro-democracy groups have used the legislature as a platform to demand change and attack the government -- which would be unheard of elsewhere in China.

The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance won 11 seats, seven of them through direct election. Despite its drop in popular support, the opposition Democratic Party won 12 seats and its allies another seven -- slightly less than they had hoped.

Martin Lee, Democratic Party chairman, acknowledged that he'll have to do more than point fingers at Beijing and the Hong Kong government to sell citizens on the idea of more democracy. "We have internal problems. The members of our party are not united enough," Lee said.

The problem for the Democrats appears to be that people's worries about being controlled by China have faded. The current system has changed little from British colonial rule. China for the most part has maintained a hands-off posture.

The widening gap between rich and poor may prove to be a stronger issue than democracy. A few business interests control much of the economy and the cost of living is high. There is strong popular resistance to proposals to establish a new sales tax and to raise fees for services such as sewage disposal.

Concern over such discontent and potential instability may encourage China to stall on a commitment to expand democracy in Hong Kong, as provided for in the territory's constitution.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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