PARIS – France's broadcast authority has banned French channels from marketing TV shows to children under 3 years old, to shield them from developmental risks it says television viewing poses at that age.
The ruling also ordered warning messages for parents on foreign baby channels that are broadcast in France — such as Baby TV, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and BabyFirstTV, which has ties to News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment.
The High Audiovisual Council, in a ruling published Wednesday, said it wanted to "protect children under 3 from the effects of television."
France's minister for culture and communication, Christine Albanel, issued a "cry of alarm" to parents in June about channels dedicated 24 hours a day to baby-targeted programming. In a newspaper interview, she called them "a danger" and urged parents not to use them to help their children get to sleep.
She was referring to BabyFirstTV and Baby TV, two foreign channels that can be seen in France on cable television.
The council's ruling aims to prevent the development of such programming on French channels, by preventing them from marketing content as suitable for the under-3 age group.
It also orders French cable operators that air foreign channels with programs for babies to broadcast warning messages to parents. The messages will read: "Watching television can slow the development of children under 3, even when it involves channels aimed specifically at them."
The ruling cites health experts as saying that interaction with other people is crucial to early child development.
"Television viewing hurts the development of children under 3 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," the ruling said.
When BabyFirstTV began airing in the U.S. in 2006, it escalated an already heated national debate. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said babies should be kept away from television altogether. Critics say such channels are used as a baby sitter.
BabyFirstTV and other companies say their products are designed to be watched by babies and parents together in an interactive manner.
Guy Oranim, chief executive officer of BabyFirstTV, said he "respectfully objects" to the French council's ruling. He said the channel's content is carefully screened to ensure it is positive and educational, and that the channel encourages parents to make sure their babies don't go overboard on TV but include it in a balanced schedule.
"One of reasons we created BabyFirstTV is that we thought there was no good programming for babies on TV, and according to the research that is out there, most of the babies are watching TV anyway," he said.
The three companies behind BabyFirstTV are Regency Enterprises, a film and TV production company that is a partner of News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment; Kardan N.V., an investment group based in the Netherlands and Israel; and Bellco Capital, a private Los Angeles-based investment fund.