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updated 8/20/2008 3:35:20 PM ET 2008-08-20T19:35:20

France's broadcast authority has banned French channels from airing TV shows aimed at children under 3 years old, to shield them from developmental risks it says television viewing poses at that age.

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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 two foreign channels that can be seen in France on cable television, BabyFirstTV and Baby TV.

The council's ruling aims to prevent the development of such programming on French channels. 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 first aired in the United States in 2006, it escalated an already heated national debate. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said babies should be kept away from television altogether.

BabyFirstTV and other companies say their products are designed to be watched by babies and parents together in an interactive manner. Critics say such channels are used as a baby sitter.

Baby TV is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. 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.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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