Last night, as Tiny Girl suffered through an especially painful bout of diaper rash (by the way, if you use anything other than Triple Paste on diaper rash, it's possible you may not love your children), we allowed her to watch the PBS Kids cable channel for a little while. As if we had just rubbed his magic lamp, Small Fellow instantly materialized at her side to watch along. They watched for about 20 minutes, and then we got Fellow ready for bed and had this conversation:

Daddy, did you know that Chuck E. Cheese has pizza for kids? And that they have all kinds of other things for kids? We should go to that place. We should go on Friday.
How did Fellow learn about Mr. Cheese's chain of fine dining establishments? Well, CEC is a "sponsor" of PBS Kids programming, which allows the chain to run brief "donor acknowledgements" before and after the channel's shows. (PBS Kids runs no ads during programs.) These spots, according to a 2001 Mother Jones article, "may identify companies and brands, but not promote them or make comparative statements about them. PBS . . . restrict[s] their length to 15 seconds, requir[es] each to contain a message of 'support for kids and education' and prohibit[s] mascots, 'spokescharacters,' or pictures of products that may cause kids to ask their parents to buy for them."

And yet, in that 15-second sponsorship spot, Fellow grokked that Chuck E. Cheese was a colorful, kid-friendly restaurant that served pizza and all kinds of other things that children like.

We're not here to bash PBS. We and the kids enjoy their shows and find them educational. But the ads are hard to swallow, and they are ads, seamlessly inserted between shows, and as colorful and appealing as any spots on Nickelodeon or Fox. We'll leave the real protests to groups like this one. But we are more than a bit resentful that PBS feels like they can pontificate to kids (and parents) about the evils of advertising on its Web site, while simultaneously putting those same kids up for sale to corporations.

At the very least, FD would suggest, our federally-funded friends at PBS should be required to include material on its Web site directly addressing the fact that its shows feature ads. Their teaching materials advise parents to mute the ads whenever they watch TV with their kids. PBS should be required to give the same advice to viewers of that Chuck E. Cheese spot.

September 14, 2004 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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