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FCC Looks Into Serving, Protecting Kids in New-Media Landscape

Inquiry aims to empower parents, change regulations where necessary.

The Federal Communications Commission is kicking off its promised study of the impact of television and internet advertising on children with a public notice today seeking comments on the broad range of issues and asking whether existing FCC rules go far enough.

In a formal notice, the FCC asked whether its current requirement that TV stations run three hours a week of informational programming for children needs to be altered; whether sexual situations, language or violence in TV shows hurt kids; and, if so, what the government should do about it.

It also asked whether advertisements can hurt children by encouraging them toward unhealthy diets or affecting them in other ways. As part of the advertising issue, the FCC asked whether its existing rules requiring clear separation of ads aimed at children from program content on TV shows should be extended to websites.

The FCC also questioned the impact on children of ads within sports programming. Some public-interest groups have suggested alcohol ads and violent movie ads shouldn’t be aired during widely seen NFL and other sports programming. The audience for the games is mostly adult, but includes a large number of under-21 children.

The notice also raised questions about the impact some sexual situations in adult shows were having on children watching the shows.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had announced the inquiry in July to a congressional committee, but today’s notice represents its formal beginning.

In a statement, he described the inquiry as a full re-examination of the children’s TV landscape, 20 years after Congress passed the Children’s Television Act.

“This notice recognizes the importance of undertaking a comprehensive approach to assessing how children can best be served in the digital media landscape,” he said. “It will examine both the risks and the benefits of emerging media technologies.”

The notice asked about a range of children’s issues.

Citing one study that said most children’s programming provides behavioral lessons, the FCC asked if it should encourage more traditional classroom cognitive lessons, and programs for non-English speaking children or children with special needs.

It cited questions about TV shows’ content impact on children both in programming and in advertising.

“While electronic media offer numerous benefits for children, they also present risks,” said the notice.

“Among these risks are exposure to exploitative advertising; exposure to inappropriate content; impact on health; impact on behavior; harassment and bullying; sexual predation; fraud and scams; failure to distinguish between who can and who cannot be trusted when sharing information; and compromised privacy,” the notice said.

On advertising, it cited parents’ concern “about exposure of children to inappropriate content within advertisements on various media, such as offensive language, sexual content and violence” and questioned “to what extent are commercials containing inappropriate content [being] aired during children’s television programming or during general audience programming that may be viewed by children, such as sports programming?”

The deadline for filing comments is 60 days after publication of the inquiry in the federal register; respondents then have a further 30 days to reply.