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FCC Officials Provide Advertisers With Self-Regulatory Road Map


Kid Ad Law
March 25, 2008



Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate offered some "inside baseball" advice to advertisers recently-step up self-regulation or else. Addressing the Association of National Advertisers in February, Commissioner Tate warned that failure to change could mean regulatory-or even legislative intervention.

Childhood Obesity

Commissioner Tate identified the battle against childhood obesity as a top priority. She cited the statistic that some 10 million children suffer from the disease, and noted that "[s]topping this epidemic is a personal passion of mine."

Advertisers can monetize positive messages concerning kids' health by running ads for fruit juice, bicycles and swing sets rather than French fries, cell phones and video games, she said. She encouraged advertisers to focus on healthy messages during the federally mandated children's viewing hours, and warned that actions to the contrary may affect the programs that are counted toward such requirements in the future.

"I'm going to offer you a bit of inside-baseball advice-proactively commit to running ads for healthy foods and active lifestyles during the three hours of children's programming each week," she stated.

"Some of you have probably heard discussions on Capitol Hill regarding further limitations and even greater regulation-such as, for example, discounting children's programming that includes ads for unhealthy foods."

Violence and Indecency

Commissioner Tate also asked advertisers to support family-friendly content online and on television.

She cited a report submitted by the FCC to Congress last year concluding that "on balance, research provides strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase aggressive behavior in children, at least in the short-term."

"No issue elicits more complaints, or more discussion, everywhere I go, than the level of violence on television. Almost 70 [percent] of parents say they are very concerned about sex and violence on television and they support limits on content," Commissioner Tate said.

The issue is germane to advertisers, she said, adding that advocates are pushing for a ratings system for advertisements, and have asked the FCC to apply its broadcast decency rules to commercials.

"This is an area we are just beginning to explore," she continued. "I urge you to take whatever voluntary steps you think are prudent to answer the call of parents to protect children from anti-family friendly content."

Commissioner Tate urged advertisers to sponsor child-friendly websites and family-friendly TV programs.

"I truly believe there is a new market for ‘walled gardens'-just as parents want safe places for their children to play out in the neighborhood, they want safe places for their children to play in the online world," she said.

"I also encourage you to consider sponsoring and bringing back the ‘family hour,' which has devolved tragically, as evidenced by a recent report showing 76 [percent] of family hour programming contained foul language."

Mobile Accessibility

Another area of potential concern, Commissioner Tate stated, is media convergence, which is enabling the Internet to be available on the go.

"The latest mobile devices can provide high-speed access to the Internet from any place, at any time, which is incredibly empowering," she noted. "So empowering, in fact, that as mobile phones become available to more and more of our young children, we will need to think carefully about what is and is not appropriate for them."

Praise Too

In addition to her warnings concerning the need to protect children, Commissioner Tate spoke about trends regarding convergence and the migration of content to the Internet.

She discussed the implementation of digital television, and said the FCC will announce within a few weeks whether it will seek additional comment on the issue of product placements and embedded ads before ruling on the matter, as has been requested by members of the advertising and media industries.

In addition, she acknowledged the positive contributions made by the advertising industry in bringing public service messages to market.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all, as representatives of member organizations, for the positive impact that you have had in helping to bring the awesome power of advertising to bear on so many problems facing our children and youth-from the war against drugs and tobacco, to buckling up our seatbelts, to the more recent national epidemic of childhood obesity.

"You have had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on our country."

Why This Matters: This was an opportunity for advertisers to hear from a top FCC official the policy objectives that are a priority for the agency.


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