In two just released cases, the FCC fined television stations $8000 each for failing to publicize the location of their Children’s Television Programming Reports for an entire license renewal period (the cases can be found here and here). The FCC found that any remedial steps taken by the licensees after they discovered their failures at
In several decisions released on Friday (here, here and here), the FCC fined Class A TV stations for not meeting their obligations under the Children’s Television Rules to notify their viewers about the location of their public file containing information about the educational and informational programming they broadcast directed to children…
On Friday, the FCC showed released two decisions – both dealing with a handful of inadvertent violations of the Commission’s rules on advertising directed to children. In one case, a licensee admitted in its license renewal application 4 violations of the rules and was fined $8,000. In another, the licensee admitted 8 violations, received no fine at all, instead being only admonished for its errors. Why the difference?
The FCC justified the difference in treatment based on the nature of the violations. In reality, the station that did not receive any fine actually broadcast more commercial material in excess of the limits on the amount of advertising permitted in children’s program than did the station that was fined. The reason – “program length commercials.” These are instances where, in a commercial message, a character from the surrounding program appears. In that situation, the FCC considers the entire program as a commercial, and thus the violation is considered much more serious than a mere overage in the time limits on commercial material in children’s programs. The station that received the fine had 3 program length commercials, while the station that was not fined simply ran more commercial matter than permitted by the rules – and did not have any program length commercials. But are these distinctions really justified?
In one of those "from the depths of history" moments, the FCC on Friday released a Public Notice asking that the record be refreshed as to whether television stations that program a substantial amount of home shopping programming operate in the public interest, and whether they are entitled to must-carry status on cable systems. In…
In a letter to FCC Chairman Martin and Commissioners Copps and Tate, Congressman Edward Markey, head of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, has asked that the FCC take strong steps to restrict the advertising of unhealthy food in children’s television programs. While applauding voluntary efforts promised by some broadcasters to include in their children’s programing more Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for healthy eating, Congressman Markey urged the FCC to do more by cutting in half to 6 minutes per hour the amount of permissible advertising in children’s programming , and by finding that a station had not met its obligations to broadcast educational and informational programming directed to children if the station aired ads for unhealthy foods during a program which would otherwise qualify as a toward meeting the station’s obligations.
The letter from Congressman Markey, while citing efforts in other countries to enforce similar regulations, does not address basic issues with each of his proposals. First, if sponsorship of children’s programming is cut in half, won’t that also cut the incentive of broadcasters to air such programs? Cutting sponsorship to the bone would seem to guarantee that broadcasters will do the absolute minimum amount of children’s programming required, so that they can air programs where there are no advertising restrictions.
These requirements would also seem to make broadcasters into the food police. Broadcasters will have to educate themselves as to the nutritional qualities of various food products to make sure that nothing impermissible gets on the air. And where will lines be drawn? Could a station safely advertise a fast food store if the ads featured only the salads sold by the store – even where that store might also sell not so healthy alternatives? If definitions are drawn by numerical limits on contents such as sugar, salt and fat (as suggested by the letter), will these limits necessarily lead to advertising the most healthy foods? Will broadcasters be forced to substitute for parents in making decisions about what their children will eat?