The FCC announced a Consent Decree with a New Jersey TV station where the licensee agreed to make a $17,500 payment to the US Treasury for failing to identify “core” educational and informational programming directed to children with the required “E/I” symbol on the programming itself. This programming was, according to the consent decree, run on the station’s multicast streams – stations having an obligation to run at least 3 hours of educational and informational programming on each of its program streams. The settlement payment also covered Commission findings that the station had not adequately and accurately reported these omissions in both its Quarterly Children’s Television Reports (Form 398) and in its license renewal application. The Commission also noted that the station had not adequately informed publishers of program guides about these educational and informational programs.
We’ve written about similar fines in the past (see, e.g., our articles here and here). But what this decision emphasizes is that the FCC is still in the enforcement business. Many broadcasters have heard about the deregulatory philosophy of the majority of the current FCC commissioners. In fact, in the Media Regulation Modernization Initiative (where reply comments are due today) some broadcasters have suggested changes in the children’s television obligations, especially in connection with digital multicast subchannels of TV stations. Why require, for instance, a 24-hour weather channel to broadcast children’s programming (or for that weather channel to trigger an obligation for another channel to carry 6 hours of educational and informational children’s programming as the broadcaster is allowed to shift the educational requirement of one subchannel to another of its channels) when so much educational and informational programming is available in the marketplace through MVPDs or online sources? While these issues have been raised in the last month, the FCC has obviously not taken action yet on the proposals. Until the rules are changed, broadcasters need to honor those rules, or face potential consequences like those reflected in this consent decree.