New FCC Inquiry on Children and Evolving Media
The FCC has issued a Notice of Inquiry whose wide-ranging scope is evident from its title: “Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape.”
- Children’s use of media – The days of parents being able to control media access through the family telephone and the TV “off” switch are long gone. Moreover, media use is pervasive – the FCC cites a study finding that children and teens used electronic media for nearly six hours per day – and that was in 2004! The Commission seeks updated information concerning types, locations and means of media use by children, as well as knowledge gaps for which new studies might be undertaken. Benefits of electronic media – In addition to educational resources and social communication, theCommission recognizes the increasing importance of digital media skills for success in the workplace, improving health and overcoming disabilities. The Commission seeks comment on how to stimulate the quantity and quality of educational content, as well as how to expand awareness and exposure to media benefits.
- Risks of electronic media – Here, the Commission’s primary focus is not upon the most common concerns linking social adjustment problems to children’s exposure to adult media content, but rather upon exploitative and harmful advertising – and not just content that promotes obesity and other health problems but new forms, including interactive and embedded ads. While the FCC already restricts the amount and placement of advertising on children’s TV programs, the Commission seeks to explore the effectiveness of current regulation and asks whether voluntary industry efforts will suffice to create incentives to limit exposure to ads on other media, or whether governmental regulation may be required to empower parents in this area.
- Protecting children from the risks – Here, the trend of media convergence presents a crucial challenge for parents wishing to monitor and control their children’s exposure to harmful media content, since household-based rules are largely ineffective. The Commission notes that the effectiveness of parental control tools across burgeoning media platforms is dependent upon the level of consumer awareness of the tools, the pace of adoption of available tools by parents, their ease of use, the ratings system upon which most tools depend for triggering, and the accelerating pace of innovation that threatens to outstrip development of effective tools. The Commission is painfully aware of the general failure of the V-Chip in meeting each of these criteria despite a decade of deployment. Therefore, the Commission suggests that the answer may lie generally in media literacy – that is, how parents and children can learn to use the benefits of media while avoiding their potential harms. The concerns here range from the elemental (how to teach young children to distinguish program content from advertising) to legal issues (privacy implications, and whether the Commission can assert jurisdiction at all in certain areas). Tentatively, the Commission looks to schools as a primary resource for disseminating appropriate information.