WHAT'S ON THOSE CDS?

The music industry again is having to face the music. The latest Federal Trade Commission report on the marketing of adult- entertainment products to children finds too many music CDs off-key.

While makers of films and video games have taken steps to toughen rating systems to advise parents, purveyors of tunes and lyrics are, to put it mildly, a little too laid back.

Currently, the recording industry places "parental advisory" labels on CDs deemed "too explicit for mainstream distribution," as the Recording Industry Association of America's website explains. While this may be of some help to many parents trying to grasp what their children are listening to, the labels have clear limitations.

First, there's no meaningful industrywide standard for what's labeled. Lables are applied largely at the discretion of record companies. Any enforcement at the cash register is left to the discretion of retailers. Second, the label is vague. Parents who want to give children some listening leeway, but still rule out hard-core material, have little sense of gradation. Movie ratings, poorly as they may be enforced at theaters, at least provide a sense of relative explicitness.

The music industry will be given another nudge by this FTC rebuke. It would be wise to change its tune.

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