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Senate Calls for Media Study

By Wendy Melillo

AdWeek, September 14, 2006

WASHINGTON The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a bill that mandates a study to examine the effects of screen media—including television, computers and video games—on the cognitive development of children.

The Children and Media Research Advancement Act, sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., among others, will establish a research program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, working with the National Academy of Sciences, will examine existing research and set new research priorities. It will also issue grants over six years to researchers to examine the impact of media on a child's social, cognitive and physical development.

"No one is looking out, in a systematic way, for the cumulative impact of today's newer electronic media on our children," Lieberman said. "The questions about the effects—positive or negative—of media on our children's health, education and development are too important to go unasked and unanswered."

A report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation in May found that children 2 to 18 are spending an average of 5.5 hours each day with media. A study by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions found that "there is insufficient information to enable parents to make informed decisions about how media, particularly the newer digital media, affects children's health, education and development."

Passage of the bill comes at a time when advocacy groups are also pressing lawmakers and regulators to curb interactive ads that they claim irresponsibly push junk food at a time when childhood obesity rates are soaring. Broadcast digital TV, for example, allows children—with the click of a remote—to be transported to rules-free Internet selling sites [Adweek, July 24].

A second Kaiser report on adver-gaming and online food marketing to kids, released in July, found that 85 percent of leading food brands that use TV advertising to attract children are also targeting them with Web sites. The study examined 96 food brands and found that while most sites contained a single brand, more than one-fourth featured multiple ones—with an average of nine brands per site. Games, promotions, viral marketing efforts, membership opportunities, and movie and TV tie-ins were among the features of the sites that aim to capture kids in ways that a TV spot cannot.

Clinton said at a July forum that "we are conducting a massive experiment on our kids, and parents have not given their consent."

A separate bill before the Senate would place a ban on links to commercial matter during kids programming and during ad breaks. Groups like the Association of National Advertisers oppose such limits and argue that they would restrict media innovation.

Meanwhile, public advocacy groups such as the Alliance for Childhood and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood today sent a letter to 100 advertisers and 50 ad agencies asking them not to advertise on BusRadio and Channel One, which carry ads that children hear or see.


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