Friday, July 15, 2005

Failed self-regulation of children's advertising

From the advance text of Senator Tom Harkin's speech yesterday to the Federal Trade Commission about advertising to children and the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the marketing industry's toothless effort at self-regulation:
I understand that the Grocery Manufacturers of America is set to unveil new, supposedly tougher proposals for voluntary restrictions. Based on a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, GMA will offer many perfectly fine ideas. For instance, it would limit product placements in TV shows, and the use of licensed characters in ads and food packaging. I’m all for it.
I have not seen details of the GMA proposals, so I will withhold any final judgment. But based on what I have read so far, there appears to be no meaningful enforcement mechanism . . . no truly independent body with the will and the power to crack down on offenders.
If CARU is the model, that is a non-starter. CARU, frankly, has become a poster child for how not to conduct self-regulation. Time and again, it has shown itself to be a captive of the industry. It has no real independence. No sanction authority. No teeth.
The current situation is like a game with a rule book, but no real referee. CARU is a tiny group tasked with oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry. To me, the deck seems a bit stacked.
And the proof is in the pudding. Look at the deluge of junk food advertising aimed at kids that we see today. CARU has given the green light to all of it!
The Public Health Advocacy Institute has a new report, which includes convincing examples of advertisements that CARU allowed to proceed despite their clear failure to meet the review unit's own standards. The Center for Science in the Public interest today reiterated its call for stronger protections for children.

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