Record Industry Sees Tide Turning in Labeling Issue

With the recording industry preparing its own plan for the voluntary labeling of "offensive" releases, the movement in more than a dozen state legislatures to require warning stickers on records, tapes and compact discs seems to be losing momentum. In recent weeks, warning-label proposals have been rejected or withdrawn in Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Bills are still being considered in Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania and other states, but the recording industry is cautiously confident that states will continue to turn down some of the more restrictive proposals.

"The tide is turning," Trish Heimers, vice president of public relations for the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said.

"We are hesitant to claim victory until these legislatures are out of session and until politicians get the word that people will not vote for candidates that (vote for labeling)," Heimers said in a phone interview from her office in Washington. "(Yet) we are glad to see the states dropping the bills."

The labeling issue came to a head this year following several years of outcry from parents groups and politicians concerned particularly about the influence of heavy metal and rap music on youth. Specific songs have been blamed for everything from teen suicide to rape, from gang violence to satanism.

The record industry has opposed calls for mandated warning labels, terming such efforts as attempted censorship. Instead, the industry entered into an agreement with the Washington-based Parents Music Resource Center in 1985 to voluntarily put warning stickers on albums. But the PMRC and others say the industry has not lived up to the agreement.

Though the PMRC maintains a stand against legislated stickering, the belief that the industry didn't follow through on the agreement is cited by many supporters of mandatory stickering.

Some legislators introduced bills setting fines and/or jail sentences for retailers who sell "offensive" material without stickers or, in some cases, sell stickered recordings to to minors. Several retail chains have adopted 18-and-over sales policies and in some cases have refused to carry certain recordings in order to protect clerks from potential arrest in the future.

Two weeks ago the Musicland group--the nation's largest--banned sales of rap group 2 Live Crew's expletive-laced "As Nasty as They Wanna Be." That same album--which does carry a warning on its cover--has been declared obscene in two Florida counties, and a Sarasota record store clerk was arrested last month for selling the recording to an 11-year-old girl, though charges were later dropped.

Meanwhile, the recording industry is moving toward formalizing its voluntary plan. Heimers said that artwork of proposed stickers are being circulated throughout the industry for comments and approval.

Heimers said that all 55 members of the RIAA, as well as the companies making up the National Assn. of Independent Record Distributors, agreed last month to abide by the plan in which labels would be placed directly on the album covers rather than on the removable protective plastic wrap as has been customary.

Tennessee state Sen. Leonard Dunavant and Arizona state Sen. Janice Drinkwine Brewer both told The Times last week that they withdrew their bills because of industry progress toward self-policing.

The PMRC, which first called for the industry to adopt a voluntary stickering plan in the mid-'80s, is expected to support of the recording industry's movement toward standardized industry labeling practices.

PMRC executive director Jennifer Norwood reaffirmed Friday the organization's stand against legislated labeling. While she said that the industry had failed to hold to a voluntary labeling program it agreed to in 1985 calling for stickers stating "Explicit Lyrics--Parental Advisory" be affixed to all releases of concern, she expressed optimism that the new industry action would satisfy her organization's call for providing information to parents about the content of recordings.

However, Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania still have active mandatory labeling bills that RIAA senior vice president of corporate legal affairs Anne Neal believes stand a good chance of passing.

Tennessee's Dunavant, who represents the Memphis area, readily acknowledged in a phone interview that he did not have the votes to get the bill out of committee, noting the focus brought on the measure by the Nashville country music community. Among those who testified against the bill were country stars Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash.

"The fact that the capital's in Nashville and there's such a wealth of recording activity there . . . and there were national celebrities (testifying) carried weight against what we were about to do," Dunavant said.

But the key, Dunavant said, is the industry's proposed action. "If they follow through, then mission accomplished," he said, pledging to reactivate his bill if he finds the voluntary plan unsatisfactory. "And we may come back with a bill that instead of a label would have them print the lyrics . . . We label canned goods and look at the contents of what we eat. We might want to know what goes in our children's minds."

Arizona Sen. Brewer put her bill on hold after reaching an agreement with the RIAA and the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers to let the industry put through its own voluntary labeling plan. But she too said that her bill is not dead by any means.

"We came to an agreement with the RIAA and NARM and they have promised that labels will go on within 120 days and they will do public education with press releases and pamphlets," Brewer said. "And here in Arizona many stores have agreed not to sell stickered albums to people under 18. Of course, if they don't (follow through), I will be back with the bill next year."

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