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Partnership With Viacom's Nickelodeon Draws Fire

By Ira Teinowitz

AdAge.Com, November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- President Bill Clinton’s partnership with Nickelodeon in a childhood-obesity initiative he formed with the American Heart Association is drawing fire from a consumer group that views the Viacom network as a culprit.

Challenging FCC rule
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is upset with the Clinton Foundation for linking with the children's network. Parent Viacom is challenging a Federal Communications Commission rule that seeks to limit marketing to children. The group, a coalition of health-care professionals, advocacy groups and parents headed by Harvard psychologist Susan Linn, cites its “grave concern” in a letter sent to the former president today, calling on him to reconsider allowing Nickelodeon into the “Alliance for a Healthier Generation” partnership.

Instead, the group is asking Mr. Clinton to use his influence to get Viacom to stop fighting the proposed rule. Ms. Linn in the letter also points out that another critic of TV ads aimed at children is another Clinton, the president’s wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

“Although childhood obesity is a major public-health problem, Nickelodeon threatens public health and the public interest by consistently using its media to market junk food to children and by undermining policies established to protect children from predatory marketing,” said the letter, signed by Ms. Linn and Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard psychiatrist.

Targeting children directly
“If Viacom is successful in this legal challenge, it will be even easier than it is today for food marketers to use media to bypass parents and target children directly with ads for unhealthy food,” said the letter. The letter goes on to say that the FCC's proposed rule “will ensure that programs broadcast for children will not show unlimited advertisements of commercial Web sites and will prohibit the advertisement on television of Web sites ... on which popular characters from the very same children’s programs pitch products.”

Ms. Linn said in an interview that she believes Nickelodeon is using the alliance to promote a positive image it doesn’t deserve.

“It is outrageous what [Mr. Clinton] is doing on behalf of Nickelodeon because it is hypocritical of Nickelodeon to be claiming to form an alliance to prevent obesity, when [Nickelodeon] is one of the prime promoters” of unhealthy food advertising, she said. “Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob have become characters to promote junk food.”

Clinton spokesman
Jay Carson, a spokesman for Mr. Clinton, said, “President Clinton is fully committed to do everything he can do to turn around the epidemic of childhood obesity in America,” but declined to go beyond that in describing Mr. Clinton’s reaction to the letter.

A spokesman for Nickelodeon didn’t return multiple calls for comment.

Ms. Linn said her group hasn’t written the American Heart Association, which is another partner in the endeavor.

“We’re focusing on [President] Clinton because this is about policy. He is in such a powerful position to influence policy and is in a better position than the American Heart Association to use his partnership with Nickelodeon to influence their actions. Obviously, the American Heart Association should withdraw as well, but it’s Clinton’s involvement that seems newsworthy and that’s what Nickelodeon is primarily pushing because it makes this campaign unique.”

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