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Retailers, Renters Play Movie Ratings Game for Home Market

Media consumption by minors is a hot topic. It gets even hotter when sex and violence come up.

Most of the attention regarding consumption of media sex and violence by minors has focused on three areas: song lyrics, video games and theater admissions.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
But what about the rental and purchase of R-rated movies at retail and rental outlets? This topic has received less attention, even though movie ratings are indicated on both VHS/DVD packaging and the cassette/DVD itself.
 
Yet, policies are in place.
 
Most retailers’ Web sites don’t mention their policies. Wal-Mart does mention some of its media policies, though it includes only those on “stickered music” and video games.
 
For example, Wal-Mart doesn’t stock music with parental guidance stickers and restricts the sale of M-rated (“M” for “mature”) video games to customers 17 years and older. Wal-Mart’s Web site says nothing about its policy on selling R-rated movies.
 
But it does have a policy.
 
“We do carry some R-rated movie selections, and we have set up our cash registers to prompt our cashiers to ask for identification before selling the movie to customers,” Karen Burk, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, told EthicsDaily.com. Wal-Mart does not carry NC-17 movies.
 
“We take our role as a responsible retailer very seriously,” she said, adding that Wal-Mart enforces the policy in all of its stores. “We believe it’s the right thing to do.”
 
Stephen Pagnani, manager of media relations at K-Mart, said K-Mart enforces the same policy for R-rated movies. Spokespeople for Target and Best Buy did not return phone calls seeking information about their guidelines.
 
Blockbuster, a leading provider of home videos, DVDs and video games, offers perhaps the most detailed policy.
 
The franchise says on its Web site it does not carry NC-17 or X titles “in order to provide a wholesome environment for you and your family.”
 
The site also outlines its Youth Restricted Viewing policy, which has been in place for 11 years.
 
The policy is “a partnership program we have with parents that allows them to prevent what their minor children can rent or purchase from Blockbuster stores,” said Blake Lugash, company spokesman.
 
When someone opens a Blockbuster account (one must be 18 or older), the member can choose to activate the policy–which prevents the purchase or sale of any “youth restricted product” by minors–or to de-activate it. If the member ignores the policy, it defaults to activation, Lugash said.
 
Account holders may change their policy status at any time, but a store visit is required, Lugash said, to avoid any deception over the phone.
 
Youth restricted products include R-rated movies, M-rated video games and other movies labeled YRP, which are usually unrated films that contain material for mature audiences.
 
“We want to work with parents,” Lugash said. Blockbuster also provides a family viewing guide listing 100 movies suitable for the whole family.
 
The Video Software Dealers Association, a nonprofit international trade association, was established in 1981 to help retailers, producers and other businesses involved in multi-billion-dollar home entertainment industry.
 
In 1991, its member retailers created a “Pledge to Parents,” in which participating retailers agree not to sell or rent R-rated movies and M-rated video games to children under 17 without parental consent. The pledge also calls on members not to sell or rent NC-17 movies or “adults only” video games to children 17 and under.
 
“VSDA believes the best control of entertainment is parental control,” the VSDA wrote on its Web site, “and there is no better place than in a home video store for parents to control the content of the movies and video games to which their children have access.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
Learn more about movie ratings at the Motion Picture Association of America.
 
Learn more about video game ratings at the Entertainment Software Rating Board.