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    Hello everyone, did ya miss me? Hey, what do you mean, no? Anyways, here’s what I have to report after a three-week sabbatical–Sega’s Okawa has cancer, Suzuki in San Jose, and Joe Lieberman bites back. Hey, it’s the day before the election, why not?

    Okawa has Cancer: A press conference out of Sega HQ in Tokyo last Wednesday not only hinted at the possibility that Sega could develop software for other consoles, the PS2 included, but the press learned that Sega president Isao Okawa has cancer of the esophagus, and is awaiting medical treatment. This is worrying as, in case you don’t know, the esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach for chemical digestion, so if something goes awry, it could mean the end of Okawa, as nutrients can not be broken down and distributed throughout the body.

    Suzuki in San Joe for Shenmue: To celebrate the domestic release of Shenmue, Yu Suzuki will be appearing at the Software Etc. in San Jose, California, next Saturday from 10AM to 2PM, Pacific Standard Time. He will be signing copies of the special edition of the game. For those who can’t make it, Shenmue is released Thursday.

    Lieberman Bites Back: Read this statement from Joe Lieberman, VP candidate (BTW, election’s tomorrow…) for the US, that threatens to bring the whole Violence in Video Games issue further to the FTC:

    “I am writing to you and other leaders of the entertainment and retail communities to appeal once again for your cooperation in fixing the significant problems outlined in the recent FTC report on the marketing of violence to children.

    “As you know, the FTC found that major movie, record, and video game producers have been undermining their own ratings systems by routinely and aggressively marketing adult products to children. The FTC also found that movie theaters and retailers have been further undermining the ratings and parental control by largely failing to enforce the age-based restrictions for these products at the point of purchase.

    “I recognize that entertainment industry leaders have responded to the troubling questions raised by this report. The video game industry proposed to toughen the enforcement of its marketing code, which already prohibits the targeting of M-rated games to children under 17. The movie and music industries put forward plans to set some real limits on advertising aimed at minors and provide parents with more information. Several movie studios agreed to go a step further and adopt tougher policies for marketing R-rated films. And the Directors Guild of America called for the movie industry to adopt a broad voluntary code of responsibility, including an outright ban on marketing R-rated films to children.

    “I also recognize that some leading national retailers have promised to change their policies as well. Even before the FTC report was publicly released, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Target joined Toys R Us in adopting voluntary guidelines prohibiting the sale of M-rated video games to minors. Also, the movie theater owners vowed to study ways to more effectively enforce the R-rating to limit the access of unaccompanied children to violent R-rated films. And Steven Spielberg’s GameWorks company announced a new policy restricting children from playing violent, adult-rated games at its arcades.

    “These are important steps, and I appreciate them. But I am afraid they do not go far enough and do not address the heart of the matter. The FTC report made abundantly clear that the marketing of adult-rated products to children is a pervasive, industry-wide problem that will not be solved without an industry-wide solution. In particular, the FTC recommended that the producers and retailers adopt tough, uniform, self-enforced codes of responsibility that explicitly prohibit the marketing and sale of materials meant for adults to kids, and that these rules carry real consequences for companies that violate them.

    “Let me be specific about my concerns. The video game industry, to its credit, has a legitimate marketing code in place, and has made by far the strongest statements of responsibility on targeting adult material to kids. But the FTC showed that the enforcement mechanisms in this code have not effectively deterred companies from regularly violating it, which raises legitimate questions about compliance in the future. The movie and music industries have not yet adopted such a uniform policy explicitly prohibiting the marketing of adult-rated products to children. Nor have they been willing to implement any real enforcement mechanisms for the limited standards they have actually agreed to abide by. The most the movie industry could do was to promise to appoint a “compliance officer” in each company to monitor marketing practices; the music industry has said nothing about enforcement of its guidelines.

    “The nation’s retailers have similarly failed to meet the FTC’s recommendations. In fact, while a few major national chains have proactively adopted policies to restrict children’s access to adult-rated products, the retail community as a whole has been silent on this problem. The industry was not represented at the recent Senate Commerce Committee hearings, and since then has not, to my knowledge, issued a formal response to the FTC’s findings. Also, while the theater owners have promised to be more vigilant in enforcing the R-rating, they have not yet explained what sanctions will fall on companies that fail to do so.

    “This should not be a close call. The marketing practices documented in the FTC report, and exposed in detail in recent newspaper articles, are simply indefensible – using children as young as nine to test ideas for the sequel to a gruesome slasher movie, paying a group of young teens to hand out merchandise at underage hangouts to promote a violent and sexually-explicit thriller, distributing flyers for a murder-filled horror movie through Campfire Boys & Girls and Girl Scouts and other youth organizations, selling gun-toting action figures for blood-soaked video games to young children. Such tactics are not only deceptive and unfair to parents, but they are also damaging to the self-regulatory systems that your industries tout as models of responsibility.

    “It is just as difficult to explain why the nation’s major retailers will not limit children’s access to adult-rated videos, video games, and recordings. There is simply no good justification for having one standard of access for R-rated movies and another for M-rated video games, which often have higher doses of violence. Both ratings have a cut-off age of 17. And in both cases, common sense should rule – if a movie or game or record is labeled by its producer as inappropriate for children, then it should neither be sold nor marketed to children. It may cost a little more to enforce this standard, but that is the small price of citizenship, and I doubt many parents will balk at paying for it.

    “I am still hopeful that your industries will rise to this challenge and meet the FTC’s recommendations. I am still hopeful that your industries will listen to the millions of parents who are seriously concerned about the culture of violence surrounding our children and who are asking for a helping hand in protecting them from harm. And I am still hopeful that your industries, which contribute so much to our economy and to our culture, will embrace the civic responsibilities that go along with your constitutional rights.

    “Vice President Gore and I expect no less. Seven weeks ago we condemned the deceptive marketing practices the FTC uncovered and challenged your industries to accept the FTC’s recommendations – chief among them to adopt tough, uniform, self-enforced codes of responsibility explicitly prohibiting the marketing and sale of adult-rated products to children, and to impose real sanctions on companies that violate them.

    “Our challenge still stands today, as does our deadline. If your industries do not take the steps called for by the FTC within the next six months, and do not commit to uniform policies with real teeth, then we will call on the FTC to bring actions under the current false and deceptive advertising laws against companies that market adult-rated products to children. If we find that the FTC lacks sufficient authority under those laws to respond to this problem, then we will recommend narrowly-tailored legislation to provide the necessary authority.

    “Parents need your help. Ideally, that help would come in the form of higher standards for the products you make and lower levels of glorified violence and crude sexuality in our culture. But at a minimum, we can and should help parents shield their children from materials we all agree are not appropriate for them. I believe that is an attainable goal, and I hope you will work with us to realize it.”

    And that’s it for now, I should be back next week. Until then, see ya…