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Markey Wants to Put Kids TV On Ad Diet

If one powerful legislator has his way, some educational children's programming would not count toward a TV station's three-hour minimum of such programming per week, and fast food and snack food ads would be banned from kids shows by the FCC.

That was one of the suggestions from House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and commissioners Deborah Tate and Michael Copps.

The three were instrumental in the creation of the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity, a government/private industry partnership on ways to combat childhood obesity through changes in the media's marketing of snack and fast foods.

Markey wants to make sure that the task force. While Markey praised "purely voluntary steps, he said that he didn't think "sprinkling public service announcements for exercise and good nutrition into an avalanche of television advertising for unhealthy foods will be adequate.

Actually, the media effort goes beyond that to include exercise initiative and pledges by major advertisers to reduce the number of snack and fast food ads in kids shows, as well as employing iconic characters such as SpongeBob to do some host selling of spinach and other veggies.

Markey said the FCC has the authority and the "affirmative obligation" to "examine whether placing limitations on certain food advertising to children would further the public interest," which Markey clearly thinks it is.

He suggests that unless there is a "dramatic and swift elimination of advertisements for "junk food" during kids shows, the FCC should reduce the number of commercial minutes allowed--currently capped at 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 on weekends, and discount educational shows from counting toward a station's FCC-friendly kids quotas.

"If a "core" educational program tells kids to eat healthy foods and exercise, but the advertisements aired during the program encourage them to eat Twinkies and Fruit Loops, the ads have the potential to undercut the educational and informative value," he argues.

Markey cites his Children's Television Act as giving the FCC the power to restrict the ads.

Markey gave the three until May 4 to tell him 1) whether they had examined other countries' efforts to combat childhood obesity, 2) whether they think the commission should limit or eliminate food ads on TV watched by kids, 3) whether they supported disqualifying educational shows with "junk food" ads from the FCC-friendly moniker, 4) and what other ideas they have for flexing the FCC's muscle to ensure station licensees aren't making the obesity and poor nutrition problems worse.