Markey sets table for FCC

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WASHINGTON -- Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., contends that the FCC has the power to limit commercials for sugary foods on TV shows that have a large children's audience.

In a letter to a majority of the commission dated Monday, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet urged the FCC to take an aggressive approach regulating advertising for unhealthy foods.

A decade ago, Markey pushed through an amendment to the Children's Television Act that mandates that broadcasters air at least three hours of educational programming a week. He said the CTA gives the commission all the power it needs to go after broadcasters for airing advertising for unhealthy food.

The commission already has statutory tools under the CTA that permit it to adopt common sense restrictions on food advertising during children's programing, Markey wrote.

The FCC, Senate lawmakers and members of the public health, food and beverage and broadcast industries have formed a task force to examine the issue. Its report is expected in the summer.

The task force is led by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and commissioner Deborah Tate. FCC chairman Kevin Martin and commissioner Michael Copps also are on the task force.

Markey said that the CTA's broad language, which states that the FCC "may, after notice and public comment and a demonstration of the need for modification of such limitations (the three hour requirement), modify such limitations in accordance with the public interest," gives it latitude to regulate food advertisements aimed a kids.

"The goal behind the CTA and the implementing regulations was to provide a 'safe space' wherein children could watch wholesome, kid-friendly fare," he wrote. "Inundating children with advertisements for fast food, junk food and sugared cereals in this core educational 'safe space' -- which constitutes a mere three hours of a broadcasters' total airtime each week -- would seem to send kids mixed messages."

Markey asked the commissioners to consider whether children's programming should be disqualified from meeting broadcasters' three-hour obligation if junk food advertisements are aired during the programming.

Recently, Univision Communications agreed to a record $24 million payment for failing to meet government rules for educational children's programming. The penalty was part of a consent decree that paved the way for the nation's largest Spanish-language broadcaster to complete its $12.3 billion sale to private investors.

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