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?