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OVERHAUL FILM RATINGS, AMA URGES

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Letters and numbers aren't enough, the American Medical Association says in calling for more descriptive movie rat-ings.

It wants ratings to target more age groups, describe violent acts and extend to television programs. It also wants to include future entertainment technologies and to apply ratings to video and music recordings.At their annual five-day meeting, AMA policymakers voted to support overhauling the current rating system. The action follows recent congressional attention to violence on big and small screens.

"It is not censorship. It is helping parents parent," said Dr. Robert E. McAfee, an AMA trustee and the group's president-elect.

"Given the ubiquitousness of violent programming that can come into your home, that any 4- or 5-year-old may witness . . . we have every right as physicians to begin to do prevention."It is not censorship. It is helping parents parent. Given the ubiquitousness of violent programming that can come into your home, that any 4- or 5-year-old may witness . . . we have every right as physicians to begin to do prevention.

Dr. Robert McAfee

The push for expanded and extended ratings came from the AMA's trustees. The AMA's 430 policymakers on Tuesday adopted their recommendations without debate.

Now the 294,000-member AMA, the nation's largest doctors' group, will use its clout to try to get the recommendations on ratings imple-ment-ed.

Among other proposals, Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., has gone as far as pushing a monitoring system, though he has said he would ask his colleagues to abandon legislation if the industry voluntarily monitors itself and makes annual reports.

In Washington on Tuesday, the computer games industry's principal trade group, the Software Publishers Association, said it will develop a ratings system to voluntarily label the sex and violence content of about 2,000 new games that come to market each year. Ken Wasch, its executive director, said the group will also try to coordinate its ratings with those of video game makers.

Consumers could see labeled games on retailers' shelves by the Christmas holiday shopping season, Wasch said. The plan would cover games sold on floppy disks as well as CD-ROMs. The video games industry is developing its own set of ratings criteria for sex and violence content; those games are played on devices hooked up to televisions.

Barbara Dixon, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said her group is always willing to listen to criticism but does not undertake changes in the rating system lightly.

"The parents think it's doing a pretty good job," she said. "We're hesitant to change something that's worked so well."

NBC said the network had a long tradition of self-regulation, had added parental advisories to shows it deemed unsuitable for young children and was involved in a study of violence in programming along with the other networks. Other TV industry representatives didn't respond to requests for comment.

The AMA said extensive scientific evidence indicates violence in movies and television contributes to aggressive behavior in an increasingly violent America, where homicides have increased six times faster than population growth.

"Aggressive habits seem to be learned early in life, and once established, are resistant to change and predictive of serious adult antisocial behavior," the trustees said. "If a child's observation of media violence promotes the learning of aggressive habits, it can have harmful lifelong con-se-quences."

The AMA said by the time children become adults, they have viewed more than 200,000 acts of violence in the media, including 40,000 murders.

The MPAA ratings divide viewers into three broad age ranges - up to 12 years, 13 to 16, and 17 or older - but they fail to take into account important mental and emotional stages in children, trustees said.

"Movies that are rated `G' or `PG' are deemed appropriate for any child under 13, without recognizing that a 5-year-old, for example, is likely to respond quite differently than a 12-year-old to a portrayal of violence," they said.

The system also fails to inform parents specifically whether a movie contains violence, sex, sexual violence and horror.

The AMA wants ratings that use separate categories for ages 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17, similar to the systems used in such European countries as Denmark, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

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Additional Information

`Home Alone 2'

How a rating for the film "Home Alone 2" might look under a movie rating proposal by the American Medical Association:

"Contains numerous scenes of a young boy engaging in violent acts such as dropping bricks on a man's head, shooting a man's face with a staple gun, dropping a cast-iron pipe on two men, and electrocuting a man. The violence looks very realistic, but it is shown in a slapstick context and never results in serious injury."