Three of the FCC Commissioners have responded to the Congressional inquiry about the Commission’s rules regarding junk food advertising about which we wrote here. This inquiry was initiated by Congressman Ed Markey, Chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. The Congressman’s letter had urged the FCC to move quickly to implement rules limiting the advertising of unhealthy food aired during broadcasting directed to children. The Commissioners’ responses uniformly indicate the potential for regulation, depending in part on the outcome of the activities of the industry Task Force formed at the initiation of, and with the participation by, the FCC and Congress. See our reports on the formation of the Task Force, here. The Commissioners all note that should the Task Force fail to conclude that the industry has achieved satisfactory results through self-regulation, FCC proceedings might be required to insure that children are not unduly exposed to junk food advertisements.
Two commissioners, Chairman Martin and Commissioner Tate, responded jointly, and indicated that the FCC could explore regulation of unhealthy food, perhaps looking at guidelines adopted in other countries as a model for US regulation. These Commissioners’ statement even address the issue of regulating children’s programming on cable television networks, where they claim that there is much exposure to ads for junk food. These statements make clear that this is not just an issue for the broadcast industry.
Commissioner Copps, writing separately, goes on to suggest the possibility of using an approach that was a carry over from the now abolished Fairness Doctrine as a means to regulate ads for unhealthy food. The proposal would be to require that broadcasters provide equal time to proponents of healthy food for each ad run for unhealthy food. A similar approach was used by anti-smoking crusaders to limit cigarette ads almost 40 years ago, before laws prohibiting cigarette ads were adopted.
Look for more action on this front in the coming months as the Task Force completes its work. As stated in the Martin/Tate response, the Task Force has had two meetings and expects another three. Look for a report from the Task Force late in the year.