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What Hollywood can do

It was only right that Hollywood not be left out of the show. So last week Sen. John McCain reconvened hearings on the recent Federal Trade Commission findings about the marketing of R-rated entertainment products to children.

The heads of the the major film studios begged off earlier hearings. But Senator McCain wooed them to a Sept. 27 session. And what they had to say was definitely G-rated, well-suited - even important - to a family audience.

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First, let's give Hollywood's brightest their due. They clearly are trying to respond to concerns that their marketing practices exploit children. The FTC's findings, after all, are more than bad publicity. They also suggest that filmmakers lack a sense of responsibility and a social conscience - charges that might cause some of the industry's more sensitive producers and directors to wince.

So we have the studios' pledge to voluntarily give parents a better idea of why a film warrants an "R" (which is supposed to mean no one younger than 17 can be admitted without a parent), ban trailers for R-rated films before G-rated movies, and launch in-house reviews of marketing practices.

They also agreed to stop including children under 17 in focus groups that view R-rated films and help shape marketing strategy.

But, as some senators pointed out, the filmmakers stop short of a straightforward pledge not to market adult material to kids. Yes, it may be impossible to assure that no children will see TV ads for "R" films. But the studios could at least agree not to pitch such films during shows that attract under-17 audiences. Fox reportedly agreed to that; so should others.

If there's hesitancy to take such steps, what's behind it? Could it be that kids 10 to 16 are crucial to their the studios' bottom lines. In the very recent past, studio marketing teams have gone all out to sell violent, sex-laden films to children as young as 12 - giving out merchandise related to the films and handing out free passes. Pre-teens and young teens love movies, and they're all too easily lured by violence, horror, and lewdness.

Studio chiefs say mistakes were made, and that's all behind them now. We hope so.

There was a time when Hollywood had a sense of its own responsibility, even a sense of moral boundaries, in these matters.

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Let's hope Washington's hearings herald the return of some of that.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society