Kids, not Consumers

The Federal Communications Commission was right to crack down on child advertising

Since Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Director Michael K. Powell’s appointment by President Bush in 2001, Powell has championed increased media deregulation, delivering disgraceful amounts of power into the hands of ever-influential media moguls. Moreover, the current FCC has pursued a thoroughly flawed campaign against violators of media regulations. The commission recently issued CBS News the largest fine it has ever issued—for the less-than-horrifying sin of broadcasting a split-seond shot of one of Janet Jackson’s nipples last year. But, despite the commission’s problematic record, we must give credit where credit is due. And, it seems the FCC has finally stumbled upon the right course—if only briefly—now that it has slapped penalties on broadcasters that have violated children’s programming regulations.

Viacom Inc. and The Walt Disney Co. will pay $1 million and $500,000, respectively, for repeated violations of FCC regulations aimed to curb the commercial inundation of impressionable children. As it stands, the FCC has a host of regulations on programming intended for children age 12 and younger. For instance, the FCC limits the amount of commercial minutes allowed per hour—12 minutes on weekdays, 10 and a half on weekends. Also, to ensure that children don’t become automatonic advertisers for “SpongeBob SquarePants,” networks can’t run commercials for products associated with the program currently being aired—without this latter restriction, children would essentially be subjected to 30-minute commercials. After conducting internal investigations of their advertising practices in 2003, both Viacom and Disney discovered that they had violated these regulations countless times.

Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, violated the commercial time-limits regulation roughly 600 times and breached the product placement rule on 145 occasions. Disney, via its ABC Family Channel subsidiary, faced similar, if less widespread, charges. But while both corporations offered predictable excuses for their transgressions—citing inadvertent errors resulting from computer and human lapses—the current culture of excessive commercialization is frightening, and the FCC was right to directly censure the companies.

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, a child watches more than four hours of television per day. They, in turn, see an estimated 20,000 commercials every year and are thus exposed to the limitless advertising for unhealthy foods, alcohol, etc. Children are particularly vulnerable: They don’t realize that they’re mere targets of their programs’ corporate sponsors.

Of course, we cannot cast blame solely on the corporations that broadcast to suit the best interests of their bottom line. Parents must take accountability as well, limiting the excessive amount of television today’s kids consume daily. But networks have a responsibility to their young viewers.