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Kids Group WantsTo Add Ratings For 'Inappropriate' Commercials

The Children's Media Policy Council, whose members include Children Now, The PTA, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, wants the Federal Communications Commission to fix the V-chip/ratings system, including adding ratings for "inappropriate TV commercials" and embedded advertising in broadcast and cable shows so parents can potentially block those, too.

Positioned on the other side of the argument is the Association of National Advertisers, which has asked the commission to "disavow" any effort to add commercials to the content ratings menu, saying that Congress' instruction to the FCC to conduct a study was not be treated as an "invitation to regulate."

The positions were on display in filings made the commission Thursday, the deadline for comments to a report Congress required the FCC to prepare on the current state of content-blocking technologies across a range of media, including cable, satellite and the Internet as well as broadcasting. The FCC opened the inquiry last month.

The coalition argues that parental concerns about TV violence, sex and coarse language are not limited to TV programs, saying that mothers and fathers are also worried about content in ads for alcohol or Viagra. The group calls the fact that the V-chip cannot block ads a "serious flaw" that needs to be addressed. One way would be to place a content descriptor that identifies shows with product placements or product integration.

"Because broadcasters and origination cablecasters are already required under Section 317 of the Communications Act to make sponsorship identification announcements in any programming for which consideration has been received, amending the current ratings system in this manner would impose a minimal burden," according to the Children's Media Policy Council's filing.

That would hardly be the case, according to ANA, which argues rating ads could be "ruinous."

The advertising group argues that rating the ads would be contrary to congressional intent, which was for a study, not regulatory proposals. It also suggests that the FCC's notice of inquiry seeking comment went beyond the scope of its information-gathering charter from Congress by even raising the question of commercial ratings for the purpose of blocking ads.

ANA points out that the the Child Safe Viewing Act, which the FCC study implements, stipulates that the FCC consider alternatives that "do not affect...the pricing of a content provider's service offering."

ANA says blocking commercials would not only impact the pricing, it would be "economically ruinous for content providers," especially broadcasters. Besides, rating thousands of ads because a few are offensive is unnecessary. ANA points out that there are already industry guidelines on ads for erectile-dysfunction treatments, for example.

"[R]equiring thousands of ads to be rated because some may be 'offensive' or 'inappropriate' for children would be a clear example of regulatory overkill," said ANA executive vice president Dan Jaffe in a blog posting outlining the comments. "[A]s very few ads give rise to controversy. Our comments describe the various industry self-regulatory programs that address concerns about ad placement for certain categories such as prescription drug products and alcohol beverage products. We believe those programs are working."

The FCC was required to open the inquiry by the Child Safe Viewing Act, which passed in the last Congress. The bill specifically requires the FCC to collect data on the most advanced methods for blocking video content, including wired and wireless platforms, TVs, DVD players, VCRs, cable set-tops and wireless handsets. It is then required to present that data in a report to Congress by Aug. 29.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

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.