FTC Report Excerpts

On September 11, the Federal Trade Commission released its report titled "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries." The Report was conducted in response to a request from President Clinton on June 1, 1999, as well as

similar requests from Members of Congress in the wake of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.  The full report can be found on the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/09/index.htm#13.

The FTC report’s conclusion that “members of the motion picture, music recording, and electronic game industries target children under the age of 17 as the audience for movies, music, and games that they themselves acknowledge are inappropriate for children or warrant parental caution due to their level of violent content” seemingly confirmed suspicions that “the teenagers’ exposure to images of violence in entertainment media” was a cause of the Columbine tragedy. This conclusion was lent credence by the flurry of news reports and presidential campaign proclamations released this week and the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing on Wednesday. 

The article by Cato Institute Visiting Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ronald D. Rotunda and these excerpts from the FTC report shed further light on the ideas offered in the report and beg further questions to the true reasons behind youth violence and the impact of advertising.


Pages 1-2

“On June 1, 1999, following the horrifying school shooting in Littleton, Colorado that increased public calls for a national response to youth violence, President Clinton requested that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice conduct a study of whether the motion picture, music recording, and computer and video game industries market and advertise violent entertainment material to children and teenagers…The Columbine High School shooting heightened the public’s existing concerns about violence committed by children. Although the rate of violence perpetrated by young people has declined in the 1990’s, the rate for murders committed by youths in the United States is still substantially higher than in other industrialized countries.5 For the past few decades, parents, social scientists, criminologists, educators, policymakers, health care providers, journalists, and others have struggled to understand how and why children turn to violence.6 Following a plethora of news reports suggesting that the boys involved in the Columbine killings were immersed in a violent entertainment subculture,7 many observers focused on the teenagers’ exposure to images of violence in entertainment media as a cause of the Columbine murders.”

Endnote 5, which appears, on Page 58 states: 

Still, the rate of violence perpetrated by young people has actually declined in the 1990’s and school-associated violent death remains extremely rare. See Juvenile Offenders, supra, at 31 (reporting and analyzing crime statistics collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Victimization Survey). The 1999 report, which contains statistics collected through 1997, is available at www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org. Additional statistics for teen homicide rates through 1998 are available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bj/homicide/teens.htm.  See also Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, Assessing Health Risk Behaviors Among Young People: Youth Risk Behavior

Surveillance System, At-A-Glance 2000, www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/yrbsaag.htm (visited June 26, 2000).”

Page 2:

“While the entertainment media received a great deal of blame for youth violence in the past year, most people agree that exposure to media violence alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act. Although several major public health organizations recently voiced their shared conviction that the viewing of entertainment media violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behavior in children, they also have acknowledged that it is not the sole, or even necessarily the most important, factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence.  They, and the researchers and advocates who have studied youth violence, posit that a range of other factors – such as child abuse and neglect, victimization, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, exposure to violence in the home, neurobiological indicators, and low socioeconomic status – can interrelate to cause youth violence.    Some observers focus on children’s access to handguns as the cause for the high fatality rates associated with youth violence in America. Others look for cultural explanations.” 14

Endnote 14, which appears on Page 60, states:

14. “See Bok, supra note 5, at 7–9; cf. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications, Media Violence, 95 Pediatrics 949, 951 (1995). Although most researchers attribute the lower rates of teen homicide in other countries to stricter gun control laws, some note that other countries place more controls on the media than does the United States. Many stable industrialized democracies, in the absence of a strong constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and First Amendment-like safeguards against censorship, monitor the media and enforce regulations regarding the advertising and marketing of the media, either directly or through quasi-governmental bodies. They also employ ratings systems that contain some similarities to – and some differences from – those currently used by the media industries in the United States.”

Pages 11-12

“Significantly, the motion picture studios, unlike the electronic game industry, believe that it is appropriate to target advertising for R-rated films to children under 17 and to target advertising for PG-13-rated films to children under 13, on the grounds that these ratings are merely cautionary warnings to parents.70 The industry notes, among other reasons, that, “Many socially and artistically important films have received PG-13 and R ratings because they contain such depictions [of violence],” and that those filmmakers have the right to draw as much attention to their work as possible – “even the attention of persons under the age of 17, who are entitled to view such films with the permission and in the company of their parents.”71

Page 15:

“An analysis of the television campaigns for PG-13 films targeting youngsters 6-11 indicates that many of the television programs popular with teens and used heavily to promote R-rated movies, also are very popular with children 6-11. As one marketing plan for a PG-13 movie targeting those 6-11 stated, “Other programs, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, WWF and WCW Wrestling cross over to Children 6-11 and local television buys targeted this group as well.” This plan also showed that Xena: Warrior Princess – used in advertising for virtually every R-rated movie the Commission examined – was as popular with children 6-11 as it was with males 12- 17. MTV is also popular with children 6-11. 90 Thus, although the Commission found little indication that R-rated films were deliberately being marketed to children under 12, 91 those young children nevertheless had substantial exposure to the television advertising for R-rated films as well.”

Page 48

“Game companies also use television advertising to target M-rated games to teen audiences. Marketing documents set out a long list of television programs popular with teens ages 12 to 17 on which companies planned to place their advertisements for M-rated games.281 These programs include The Simpsons, WWF Smackdown, That 70’s Show, King of the Hill, Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, The Wayans Brothers, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Baywatch, X-Files, V.I.P., Smart Guy, and WCW Wrestling.282

Percentage audience 6-17 according to Appendix I:

Simpsons 24.8%

WWF Smackdown 36.5%

X-Files not available

That ‘70s Show not available

King Of The Hill 22.6%

Dawson’s Creek  34.6%

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 30.0%

Smart Guy not available

South Park 21.2%

Simpsons syndicated not available

WWF Wrestling  not available

WCW Wrestling   not available

Xena: Warrior Princess 22.6%

The Wayans Brothers not available

Hercules  22.2%

Baywatch not available

X-Files syndicated not available

V.I.P. syndicated not available

Pages 53, 56.

 “The motion picture, music recording, and electronic game industries should stop targeting children under 17 in their marketing of products with violent content. All three industries should increase consumer outreach, both to educate parents about the meaning of the ratings and to alert them to the critical part the industries assume parents play in mediating their children’s exposure to these products. Because of First Amendment protections afforded to these products, industry is in the best position to provide parents with the information they need. Finally, parents must become familiar with the ratings and labels, and with the movies, music, and games their children enjoy, so they can make informed choices about their children’s exposure to entertainment with violent content…The empirical inquiry, however, inevitably suggests certain conclusions about ways in which the present system of self-regulation could be improved…. Implementation of these specific suggestions would significantly improve the present regimes of self-regulation. The Report demonstrates, however, that mere publication of codes is not sufficient. Self-regulatory programs can work only if the concerned industry associations actively monitor compliance and ensure that violations have consequences. The Commission believes that continuous public oversight also is required, and that Congress should continue to monitor the progress of self-regulation is this area.”


2003 The Federalist Society