Thursday, September 25, 2008

HEALTH NEWS: Baby-Targeted TV Banned In France

(previously published here at

From the colorful costumes of "Barney and Friends" to Saturday morning cartoons like "Dora the Explorer," television programming has long targeted the pre-preschool set in America. If we take a cue from France, however, that could change.

Last week, the High Audiovisual Council, France's broadcast authority, banned French channels from airing any TV shows with a target audience of children under three years old. The goal, as stated in the published ruling, is to "protect children under three from the [negative] effects of television."

"Television viewing hurts the development of children under three years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration as well as dependence on screens," wrote the council.

The ruling affects both French channels and cable operators that air foreign channels, specifically BabyFirstTV and BabyTV. BabyTV is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and BabyFirstTV is owned by a Fox Entertainment affiliate, as well as Netherlands-based and LA-based investment groups.

Program development will be affected and French cable operators that air foreign channels with baby-targeted programs will now be required to air warning messages to parents, such as: "Watching television can slow the development of children under three, even when it involves channels aimed specifically at them."

While such baby-marketed products are touted as specially designed for parent-baby interactive viewing, critics argue that such specific channels are more often used as a babysitting tool.

In a June newspaper interview, France's minister for culture and communication, Christine Albanel, also urged parents not to use 24-hour channels as a sleep aid, deeming it actually counterproductive to a good night's sleep. Research shows that background noise and artificial light such as those from TVs impede the body's ability to wind down and rest.

Area medical professionals agree. Dr. Gary Emmett, director of hospital pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, said, "While watching TV is not always harmful, it is not always helpful." It also often has long-term effects on learning and physical health, since the time spent in front of the TV takes away from other activities.

"Reading is directly correlated to success in school, while watching TV, and other things that [doctors] regard as passive, is not ... and is counter-related," he said.

Research published this July in the journal Childhood Development has also highlighted the negative effects of background noise on a toddler's ability to concentrate and learn, instead fostering restlessness and distraction.

BabyFirstTV first aired in the United States in 2006 to much debate over the value of such programming towards the youngest and most undeveloped, impressionable segments of society. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children below age three should have zero hours of TV watching. However, a 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that two-thirds of children under age six live in a home where the TV is on half the time, while one-third of children live in a home where it is on "most of the time" or "always."

According to Dr. Emmett, parents can help by fostering active playtime with other children and by reading storybooks with them. There is also a Philadelphia-area branch of the national charity NEMOURS that calls for a "two-one-five-zero" program: two hours or less of screen time a day, one hour of running or swift walking, five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and no sweets or sugary drinks.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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