Pol calls out studios on screen smoke

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WASHINGTON -- The motion picture studios will have to tell Congress whether they are willing to put anti-smoking ads on DVDs and certify that they aren't taking any money for product placement of tobacco products or risk the ire of one of the House's most prominent lawmakers.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., pushed MPAA chief Dan Glickman to survey trade group members and make a report on his findings to the telecommunications and Internet subcommittee on Tuesday. Markey chairs the committee and is one of most knowledgeable and respected lawmakers working on media issues. He authored the V-chip law, mandating that TVs contain the content-blocking technology, and the Children's Television Act, which requires broadcasters to air at least three hours of educational TV each week.

During a hearing Friday on the impact of media images on children, Markey pushed the studios and theater owners to do more to curb or counter images of smoking on the silver screen.

While Glickman defended the industry, there was little he could do but agree to survey the studios about the issue. "To the best of my knowledge, none of our companies are responsible for taking paid product placement for tobacco products in our motion pictures," he testified.

But Glickman's words and an offer to have representatives of the studios explain to Markey what they were doing to make smoking less attractive failed to pacify the lawmaker.

"Could you survey the companies you represent and report back to the subcommittee, and identify which companies are willing to and which are not willing to put the PSAs on their DVDs?" Markey asked.

Pushing Glickman to do even more, Markey said he wants to ensure that none of the major motion picture studios take cash for tobacco placements. "I'd like to make a request from the subcommittee that you do a survey of the companies you represent, in terms of banning tobacco brand images and certifying that no one's working and receiving payment," Markey said.

Glickman was the victim of a double whammy at the hearing as Markey showed no signs of compromise and Cheryl Healton, head of the American Legacy Foundation, alleged that the studios were taking cash for smoking scenes. "It's very hard for me to believe that there isn't money changing hands," she said.

But Glickman fought back, telling the committee not to trust Healton's allegations.

"A lot of her allegations aren't based on fact," he said. "The truth of the matter is our companies are committed to that there will be not product placement, and we stand behind that and are committed to reduce the amount of smoking in movies."

It wasn't just smoking that raised Markey's ire: He also wants the government to do something to reduce the number of empty calories on TV, saying he was prepared to have the FCC write a rule on the subject.

"I'm prepared to ask the FCC to initiate a rule under the Children's Television Act ... on the issues of (food) advertising so that it is not inconsistent with the goals of the CTA," he said. "It is something I'm putting people on notice that I am really willing to pursue it."

The television and food industries have been under pressure from lawmakers to lessen the amount of sweets advertised on TV as some policymakers insist that the advertisements contribute to the nation's obesity problem.

Tobacco and snacks aren't the only programming issues that lawmakers are concerned with as the Senate Commerce Committee plans to take up violent content Tuesday.

Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori and FCC chairman Kevin Martin are among the witnesses scheduled to testify. Martin has been one of the federal government's most aggressive proponents of content controls on violence, sex and food.
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