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WASHINGTON (AP) - Turned down as a witness by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the founder of a hip-hop record label showed up at a hearing on entertainment ratings anyway to defend music that critics call obscene and even dangerous.

“Some of the songs you find offensive are actually reflections of a reality that needs to be expressed,” Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam records, said Wednesday at the hearing of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, which Lieberman chairs.

Because of the vivid depiction of violence in some hip-hop music, “The plight of kids who live in Compton now is a lot clearer to the kids who live in Beverly Hills,” Simmons said.

Lieberman, D-Conn., let Simmons speak at the end of the hearing after the record founder interrupted a question-and-answer session between senators and other witnesses to indicate his presence.

Earlier, Simmons had asked the committee for permission to testify but was turned down because, Lieberman said, the request came in too late and there were already numerous witnesses.

Other witnesses complained that a rap or hip-hop artist has never testified on Capitol Hill, despite the fact that their music is frequently singled out for criticism by Lieberman and others for profane, violent or sexually explicit content.

“There is a desire on the part of these people to testify. They’re consistently denied,” said Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. Rosen also criticized the debate over the entertainment industry as having “racial overtones” because much of the music that has come under fire is made by black artists.

A prominent exception is Eminem, the Grammy-winning white rapper whose lyrics have been criticized as foul and demeaning to gays and women.

“The notion that this is racially targeted is not only invalid, but it hurts those of us who are trying to protect the First Amendment rights of artists,” responded Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, a former actor and the ranking Republican on the committee.

Wednesday’s hearing focused on the effectiveness of the different ratings systems used to indicate the levels of sex and violence in movies, music, video games and on television. Several experts said that the ratings are confusing to parents, inconsistent, and don’t provide enough information.

A product with extreme violence “would be rated R if it were a movie, TV-MA if it were a TV show, M if it were a home video game, display a red sticker if it were an arcade video game, or have a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker if it were a music CD,” said Dale Kunkel of the University of California at Santa Barbara, an expert on violence in media.

Kunkel is among those who favor a uniform rating system for all forms of media. Lieberman wants the entertainment industry to improve ratings but has not endorsed a specific approach.

Industry leaders say a uniform system would be unworkable.

“We’re dealing with vastly disparate art forms,” said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. “Music is for the ear. It’s like words. Movies are not.”

Pending bills by Lieberman and Rep. Steven Israel, D-N.Y., would prohibit as an “unfair or deceptive” practice, under regulations enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, the targeted marketing to minors of adult-oriented media products. Critics say the bill is unconstitutional.

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