BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The Federal Communications Commission doesn't set rules on how much time commercials can take up except around children's programming. But to some parents those limits are not nearly enough, and they've launched a new effort to get Congress to eliminate all TV advertising to children under the age of 12. Similar restrictions have been put into law in Sweden, Denmark and Belgium. Commercial ban organizers here say they're gaining support from parents who don't like what kid marketers are selling. OTM's Paul Ingles reports. [TV SOUND UP AND UNDER]
JINGLE SINGERS: [SINGING] DORA, THE EXPLORER! NICK ON CBS!
PAUL INGLES: It's a typical Saturday morning on network TV with Dora, the Explorer on CBS--
VILLAIN: Why I oughtta--!
KID: Catch you later, windbag!
PAUL INGLES: --Teamo Supremo here on ABC--
MAN: Wolf Spider! Whoooo! Look at the fangs on her!
PAUL INGLES: That's Croc Files on NBC, and over at Fox, Ultraman-- [MUSIC]
MAN: So you see, son, this is a chance to sharpen your skills.
PAUL INGLES: And amidst all the action and learning, plenty of commercials -- with kids--
PAUL INGLES:While the networks and cable channels build their children's blocks as the best in educational or animated fun, media reformers and some parents see it differently -- as a system that merely delivers kids to advertisers.
SUT JHALLY: Given that kids don't have a lot of money themselves, yeah, when you're advertising to 4 year olds and 5 year olds, what are you doing? What you're doing is you're trying to convince kids to pester their parents -- to lobby them for particular kinds of products.
PAUL INGLES: University of Massachusetts professor Sut Jhally directs the Media Education Foundation, and he spoke last month to teachers and media activists at a conference in Albuquerque.
SUT JHALLY: The media have no interest in the health and well being of our kids. There is no moral justification for advertising to kids. You cannot make a moral justification.
PAUL INGLES: And so Jhally and other media reformers, along with some parents groups spanning from conservative to liberal are signing on to a Parents' Bill of Rights written by Ralph Nader's Commercial Alert organization.
GARY RUSKIN: The idea of the Parents' Bill of Rights is that it's simply impossible for parents to control the commercial influences over their children's lives any more.
PAUL INGLES: Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, whose document claims a link between corporate marketers of candy and soda pop and rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in kids. And Ruskin doesn't stop there.
GARY RUSKIN: They're being fed a list of values like materialism and violence and anti-social behavior and hedonism that nearly all parents really don't agree with.
PAUL INGLES: Ruskin says the answers is legislation, and the Parents' Bill of Rights suggests 9 possible state or federal laws he expects supporters will be lobbying for soon. They range from eliminating the tax deduction for advertising to children under 12 to removing commercial interests from schools to the big one -- banning all television advertising aimed at kids under 12 -- a law some others say will never fly.
SCOTT DONATON: It's First Amendment. It really is! It protects commercial speech as well.
PAUL INGLES: Scott Donaton, editor of Advertising Age Magazine.
SCOTT DONATON: And as long as they're legal products advertised in a truthful manner, then, then there's no reason to, to block these messages, to regulate these messages, and I think it's ridiculously over the top to call them evil! Vote with your remote controls; you know, vote with your dollars if, if you don't like that a company is sponsoring something - don't buy their products. If you don't like a show, don't turn it on!
PAUL INGLES: Donaton says overall the ad industry does a good job of policing itself, and he points to groups like the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Better Business Bureau which monitor ads during children's programming for appropriateness. CARU, as it's called, is directed by Elizabeth Lascoutx, who tells of one spot they went after recently. It looked like a kid's show, she said, with a woman train conductor and a man in a whale outfit singing Sharing is Caring.
ELIZABETH LASCOUTX: As they were singing, the whale started pointing at some Juicy Fruit in the woman's overall pocket, and she got, while still singing with her teeth clenched, angrier and angrier and shook her head no -- while singing Sharing is Caring -- and so the whale reached over and took it and she ran after him and decked him with a flying tackle and when he stood up his eye was hanging out and his tooth was missing, and then she ripped off his flipper and started beating him with it. We didn't think that was appropriate for children's [LAUGHS] television, obviously.
PAUL INGLES: CARU got Wrigley's to pull the spot from kid's shows although it still runs some on late night TV. Lascoutx says since most parents don't know about CARU as a place to lodge complaints about ads, they've handled only about ten parental protests in the last ten years. But also she thinks that the industry largely keeps itself from crossing a line that would alarm parents.
ELIZABETH LASCOUTX: You really don't want to make the parents of your target audience upset with you, so the kid marketers, the traditional kid marketers know what the rules are. Sometimes they'll push a little bit on the creative end, and we push back, but they know what the rules are and they basically play by them.
PAUL INGLES: Commercial Alert's Gary Ruskin calls CARU's monitoring, quote, "a rigged system" in that ad challenges are heard by panels dominated by ad industry personnel, and CARU itself is funded by ad industry money. Ruskin labels the result, quote, "weak standards for judging what's appropriate in advertising to children." It's one reason Ruskin is pushing for new laws and pinning his hope on getting a few key legislators to sign on as sponsors. He says since many elected reps are parents too, some may join his cause. [SCHOOL YARD - KIDS CALLING OUT] A quick survey of parents waiting for their kids outside an Albuquerque elementary school turned up mix responses ranging from where do I sign to doubters like Catherine Cooper.
CATHERINE COOPER: I think it's problematic. First, I don't understand how you can ban advertising for children 12 and under. I think it would be a problem as to who's going to decide what is good or what isn't good for children 12 and under. I don't think it's possible.
PAUL INGLES: Undaunted by concerns like these, supporters of a kids commercial ban say the first step is to get the conversation going on the topic --so they're vowing to get the Parents Bill of Rights posted in as many day care centers, schools, churches, synagogues and grocery stores as possible in the months ahead. For On the Media, I'm Paul Ingles.