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BMG to Put Ratings on CDs

Major label the first to heed Senate's request for new labels

June 4, 2002 12:00 AM ET

The Bertelsmann Music Group, one of the five major record companies, has decided to expand upon the Recording Industry Association of America's pre-existing Parental Advisory Program with a broader initiative designed to inform parents about music that might be deemed objectionable.

BMG's new policy requires that any BMG release in the United States that warrants the Parental Advisory Label (which was created in 1985 as a result of the campaigning of Tipper Gore, wife of then-Senator Al Gore) to be packaged with an additional label that describes the nature of the explicit content to one of three more specific degrees: Strong Language, Violent Content, Sexual Content. Some releases may require two or three of the labels, which will be presented on the bottom right corner of the album, beneath the PAL. The first of the new labels will be used on May Day by rapper Lady May, due in late July.

"BMG recognizes our dual responsibility to help parents make informed decisions about the entertainment their children consume and to protect the right of our artists to express themselves freely," said Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Chairman and CEO of BMG. "Our labeling initiative will offer parents additional tools to help them decide what is appropriate for them and their families, keeping in mind the rich diversity in our communities."

The decision was announced on June 3rd, in anticipation of a Federal Trade Commission report about the marketing of explicit material to children. The issue was initiated by President Bill Clinton in 1999 following the Columbine High School tragedy in Colorado. In late 2000, the FTC issued Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording and Electronic Game Industries. The report criticized the three industries for deliberately marketing violent and profane material towards children.

In April 2001, a follow-up report was issued praising steps taken by the film and gaming industries at self-regulation, but the music industry was singled out for coming up short in protecting children from objectionable marketing practices. According to the second report, all five major labels advertised albums that contained explicit material in television and print ads with substantial demographics under the age of seventeen. The study also claimed that most print, television and Web advertisements failed to display the Parental Advisory label. The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain, chose not to take any regulatory measures, but instead to wait for a more extensive report.

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