New Watchdog Group for Child-Friendly TV

Common Sense Media, a new non-partisan media-watchdog group designed to keep parents informed about the appropriateness of media of all types took to the Web last week with the launch of its Web site,

Its board of directors reads like a "who's who" of the media industry, with former FCC Chairmen Bill Kennard and Newton Minow, Oxygen Media executive Lawrence Wilkinson, and Robert Wehling, former chief marketing officer for Procter & Gamble among the names. Advisers include Dr. William Baker of WNET-TV New York; Gary Knell, president and CEO, Sesame Workshop; and Tim Zagat, co-founder and co-chair of Zagat Survey.

James Steyer, founder, chairman and CEO of Common Sense Media, says the idea for the non-profit organization came about during his travels across the country last year in support of his book The Other Parent, The Inside Story of the Media's Effect on our Children.

"Parents and others I spoke with said they felt overwhelmed by the media's influence on their lives and those of their kids," he says. "But they found they have nowhere to go for easy-to-understand information about media content. The current system of ratings is a hodgepodge, with separate ratings for TV, movies, music, Internet and videogames."

Television's ratings system, in which program producers or their networks, rather than a separate board, rate show content, has largely been ignored by parents and viewers, although most surveys say parents are concerned about the negative effect of television on their children.

Version 1.0 of the Common Sense Media Web site includes in-depth descriptions of all types of media. The reviews are designed to provide parents with a sense of both the quality and appropriateness of content for children.

The organization hopes to tap Zagat to create a Zagat survey for media. Other Common Sense print and television outlets for the content are also on the agenda, and Steyer hopes that, within a year, Common Sense will offer a weekly or monthly guide that parents can use to make more informed decisions on media

"Zagat pioneered the vox populi
form of restaurant reviews," adds Steyer. "And it's very important for what we're doing that we pull together the leading child-development, education and public-health people in media. They can set up criteria for fair and non-partisan information.

"Our approach is simple," he adds. "Present the information so parents can make more-informed decisions."

Steyer, who lectures on the First Amendment and civil-liberties issues at Stanford University, refuses to put Common Sense in any ideological or religious bag. "We aren't a right-wing religious group that is going to call for banning things."