Getting the Message - Broadcasting & Cable

Getting the Message

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If cable news and at least one of my local broadcast outlets are any indication, the media are taking seriously their charge to put a spotlight on nutrition, diet and obesity.

Hardly had I gotten back from Wednesday's first meeting of the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity– I was covering, not presiding–when I was greeted by a local news story on the calorie counts for some of my favorite chinese foods.

Thursday, CNN had some helpful tips on online nutrition sites, followed almost immediately by a teaser for a story on a 254-pound seven-year-old whose mother insisted she fed him well but whose custody was threatened by social services.

And Neil Cavuto's comentary Thursday was about the mocking of overweight people as one of the last "acceptable" prejudices and opined that was unlikely to change.

Look for more such stories, as well as PSA's on diet and exercise, more ads for broccoli and brussels sprouts, and even plotlines in shows dealing with the subject.

I must admit to some squeamishness about modifying entertainment programming at the behest-by-proxy of government. I am reminded of the Office of Drug COntrol Policy, which allowed broadcasters to qualify for federal money by putting anti-drug messages in their shows. Good result, but not the business I want the government to be in.

Between the plot elements inserted to fit product placements–focusing on the use of branded cell phones, for instance–and the plot elements inserted to placate Washington, antismoking, pro-healty diets–it will soon be impossible to separate entertainment from advertising, which is troubling given the power of the media to shape our wants and desires.

By John Eggerton

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