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Brownback Doesn't Back Kids Marketing Mandates

Senator Sam Brownback, whose bill boosting FCC indecency fines was recently passed into law, says he is not prepared for Congress to mandate a crackdown on food marketing to kids, while Nickelodeon said it was ready to meet with all parties to tackle food marketing issues.

At a Washington conference on food marketing to children, sponsored by Children Now, the Kansas Republican said Thursday he preferred to hold hearings and to meet with the advertising and food industries to talk about ways everybody could work together to address the issue of TV's impact on kids.

He said he had been talking recently with a top Disney executive about ways to make TV choice less about government action and more about consumer empowerment through mechanisms to screen out unwanted programming, or let it all in, he added.
What Brownback was willing to push hard for is additional science to study the affects on the brain of different kinds of TV programming. While he called for more hard science, he said he had some anecdotal evidence. Brownback adopted two children, one who had watched a lot of TV, and the other who hadn't. The TV watcher is tough to get away from the set, he said.

Robert Kasten, formerly of TV Turn Off Net (now rechristened the Center for Screen Time Awareness--"we could get more done that way," he said) asked whether Brownback backed creating a joint task force. Brownback said only if industry were also invited to be part of it.

Nickelodeon executive Marva Smalls, who was attending the conference said her company was prepared to sit down with all parties and "roll up its sleeves"  in a "safe space," which means without antitrust concerns.

Brownback, who said his household was a "big consumer of  Nickelodeon, "asked Smalls who should convene such a meeting, suggesting perhaps the FCC. Smalls instead said a congressionally-sponsored, constructive meeting was one way to go, as well as better direction on standards from the FDA.

Brownback said that he subscribed to the theory of giving industry plenty of notice before acting or, as he put it: "Tell people we're coming for a long time."

The government has already put the industry on notice, however.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, commissioned by Congress to study kids food marketing, made it clear in a December report that it considers childhood obesity a serious enough health risk for the government to require advertisers to alter their strategy to promote healthier foods, and do it in the next two years.

“If voluntary efforts related to advertising during children's television programming are unsuccessful in shifting the emphasis away from high-calorie and low-nutrient foods and beverages to the advertising of healthful foods and beverages,” said the report, “Congress should enact legislation mandating the shift on both broadcast and cable television.”

In fact, it was University of California Professor Dale Kunkel, who worked on the study, who had asked Brownback whether he backed legislation if the industry did not respond. Smalls said the industry was making progress, but that it was a marathon, not a sprint.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.