Backing off from a highly publicized and controversial program, the staff of the Federal Trade Commission recommended yesterday that the agency abandon its study of whether to limit television advertising aimed at children. a
The commission staff said that despite evidence that these advertisements are a "legitimate cause for public concern," a ban on these ads, which generally are shown on programing such as cartoon shows, is not practical.
"If a ban on advertising were implemented for those few programs where young children constitute a majority or substantial share of the television audience, it would have such a limited scope that it could not be an effective remedy," the FTC staff said.
The staff did recommend, however, that broadcasters and advertisers step up their pattern of increasing educational information about nutrition. "Children could benefit substantially from a voluntary increase in the amount of such information to which they are exposed," the staff suggested.
The recommendations are now a subject for comments to be filed with the FTC before the agency evaluates the report. As expected, suporters and critics of a sweeping action limiting or banning the ads -- at one time a favorite project of former FTC Chairman Michael Pertschuk -- were out-spoken about the conclusions.
"The FTC staff recommendations threaten the health of American children, but are not surprising considering that the very existence of the FTC has been threatened by Washington's antiregulatory fever," said Peggy Charron, president of the Action for Children's Television, a group which is widely credited with bring attention to the issue.
"We will actively pursue our battle against deceptive advertising targeted at children. We will also work to reduce the amount of that advertising and to encourage a clustering of those ads," she said.
On the other hand, Vincent Wasilewski, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said the NAB, the television industry's lead lobbying arm, was "delighted" by the "reasonable recommendation."
"Broadcasters and advertisers have their responsibilities," he said. "Parents must be keenly aware of what their children watch. It is not the role of government or television to be their surrogate."
The children's advertising proceeding was the target of considerable attention during last year's congressional battle over the FTC's powers. In passing the FTC's authorization legislation, Congress limited the probe to "deceptive," rather than "unfair," advertising. When the legislation became law, the FTC immediately revised its investigation, and the staff report was an outgrowth of that action.