Consumer Groups Want It Tougher, Broadcasters Call It Unconstitutional

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Legal challenges are being levied against a new Federal Communications Commission rule that will limit advertising on TV shows and Web sites aimed at children.

Under the rules, which are to take effect Jan. 1, promotional announcements will, for the first time, count as part of the 12-minute maximum per hour of ads aimed at children under age 13 (10.5 minutes of ads are allowed on weekends).

Web site mentions
The rules will also limit mention of Web sites in TV programs aimed at children. No Web addresses at all can be displayed for Web pages that feature program characters selling products. Other Web pages can be displayed, but the amount of time they’re shown or mentioned counts against the ad limits, except for pages with a substantial amount of program-related information that aren’t primarily commercial in purpose.

Believing that the curbs are insufficient, the United Church of Christ has asked the appellate court in Cincinnati to review the rule, and said the FCC should go further and ban future digital technology that would allow children watching TV to link and click through to Web sites during shows.

Media giant Viacom, parent of Nickelodeon, filed its own challenge in appellate court in Washington asking the court to review it.

Broadcasters: FCC exceeded authority
Other networks, meanwhile, are continuing to ask the FCC itself the review the rule. Broadcasters in filings with the FCC contend that the language of the rule is confusing; that it violates their First Amendment rights and exceeds the FCC's authority; and that it would result in "staggering" financial harm. They have also warned the rule's effect would reduce incentive to air children's shows.

Media companies also have slammed the limits on Web sites, calling them unconstitutional and saying it could force the elimination of Web content. "Depending on commisson's construction of the rule, companies might be required to eliminate any reference, anywhere on their websites, to a product or service related to an on-air character, such as SpongeBob SquarePants or Mickey Mouse," said one FCC filing from Walt Disney Co. and Viacom.

In a statement, Viacom said it was preserving its right to challenge the rules if efforts to reach a compromise fail. “Our filing ... is intended simply to preserve our legal options. We remain committed to serving the interest of kids and parents and continuing to give them the programming they love,” a company spokesman said.

Consumer groups
Consumer groups, however, have rejected broadcasters’ alternative of linking to non-commercial pages and a buffer page before presenting commercial content and are promising to fight.

“I am shocked and disappointed that a company such as Viacom is seeking to overturn FCC rules that are designed to protect children from unfair commercial programming,“ said Angela J. Campbell, an lawyer for consumer groups.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said media companies “are going ballistic” over the rules. “Their entire business model is based on e-commerce goal. What the FCC is saying to Nickelodeon and Disney is your sites are off limits [to children].”

Most Popular
In this article: