The good news is that Ed Markey (D-MA) recognizes the preference for content management tools over content regulation when it comes to helping parents control what their children experience in the media. However, he noted Friday that there are no tools that block commercial content, and said that legislation already on the books gives the FCC authority to step in if necessary.
"I believe 'Big Mother' and 'Big Father' are better able to decide what is appropriate for their kids to watch, rather than 'Big Brother' – but we needed the law to ensure parents had the tools to effectuate these choices," said Markey.
"As the House sponsor of the Children's Television Act, I believe parents and children deserve better. And that Act already grants the FCC authority to address many of these issues if the industry does not respond to this problem on its own, swiftly and concretely."
The gist of Markey's concern is not programming content. He seems satisfied that blocking tools are available to parents when it comes to the entertainment portion of electronic fare. However, commercials are not blocked under any circumstances, and this seems to be an area where he is willing to seek regulatory measures if his concerns are not address.
"There is a terrible inconsistency in policies that require broadcasters to air three hours a week of educationally nutritious programming for kids and then have this programming and other children's shows surrounded by a barrage of junk food ads."
Speaking on behalf of broadcasters was Jon Rand of KAYU-TV Spokane. He detailed a campaign his company is doing called "Healthy Choices = Healthy Families" which includes numerous elements, including PSAs (16 unique commercials so far) run seven days a week in all dayparts, focus on the issue during local newscasts, and establishment of a dedicated website.
SmartMedia observation: Rand also noted that almost all of its children's programming revenue has been lost to cable and its 24/7 children's channels. We have seen other reports that a large proportion of the junk food advertising comes into the home over a wire, not over the air. Regulators should bear that in mind before considering onerous regulations on broadcasters just because of the unbidden-entry-into-the-household thing. Nevertheless, we find it encouraging that Markey is not anxious to legislate on this matter, and even though we aren't quite sure what FCC powers Markey is talking about, it's still a good thing that he views the FCC as a first stop if he's not satisfied with industry initiatives, placing potential legislative remedies even further down the road.