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Martin: FCC May Need To Regulate Food Ads

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin--with Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate concurring--says the FCC may have to take steps to put additional restrictions on TV food advertising to kids.
These restrictions could include limiting or eliminating the advertisements if the government/industry task force does not come up with sufficient self-regulation.

They also said that any such regulation should target cable, where they argue the marketing of snack foods that "exacerbates the problems of childhood obesity and poor nutrition." They added that any proposed solution that does not include cable regulations "would be inappropriate and ineffective."

The comments came in a letter to House Telecommunications And Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey in response to Markey's questions about the FCC's implementation of the Children's TV Act, which Markey spearheaded.

Martin and Tate also said that the FCC would consider Markey's proposal to disqualify shows that air "junk food" ads from meeting the FCC's three-hour weekly educational programming minimum if the task force-- of which Martin and Tate are members-- did not come up with sufficient self-regulation.

Markey also asked the FCC to open an inquiry on food marketing, which Martin and Tate said they would consider after the task force had produced its recommendations. Recommendations are expected this summer.

Markey, in response to their letter, suggested the commission shouldn’t wait until then.

“While the recently-formed Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity may in the future provide insightful recommendations for the television industry and the FCC to consider in confronting this issue, any proposals it makes will ultimately be non-binding," Markey said in a response statement.

"Further, the ongoing work of the Task Force does not relieve the Commission of its own statutory role and obligation to safeguard children and the public interest.  I continue to believe that the Commission should begin the process of developing a public record on problematic food advertising to children.  By starting such a proceeding now, the Commission can assure the public that it is developing an adequate, and timely, policy response to an important health issue.”

Markey has also written Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, who is a member of the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity, for his thoughts on the subject. Copps said he supported a rulemaking limiting children's food advertising as well as considering disqualifying shows with "junk food" ads from the FCC's educational/informational category.

Dan Jaffe, executive VP of the Association of National Advertisers, by contrast praised the commissioners for focusing on the task force before turning to regulation.

 "I am pleased that in both letters, the commissioners have stated that they want to allow  the obesity task force to have a chance to complete its work."

He said he was "a little disappointed" in both letters for the fact that there was "virtually no recognition of the enormous effort that the advertising and media community have taken to help combat obesity problems in the U.S.," making it seem, he said, as though "we are starting from ground zero when in fact the ad community has been the leading responder to the obesity crisis in the U.S.

Markey and the commissioners were in agreement that the U.S. government could look at international efforts, but Jaffe says that if they do that, they will find that the data "strongly argues that ad restrictions don't work. "A recent study from Sweden has shown explosive growth of obesity in that country while they have a total ban on children's advertising," he said.

Jaffe called the FCC signal that cable was due for restrictions "the most intriguing but concerning aspect" of the letters.