In several recent speeches and press releases, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has challenged the FCC to do more in the regulation of children’s programming.  In a recent Press Release, the Commissioner outlined proposals including the following:

  • Improve the V-Chip and other program blocking technologies
  • Improve ratings information for television programming – including potentially having third parties review programming for its suitability to children as opposed to the television programmers themselves doing the ratings
  • In the context of a proceeding on Embedded Advertising that has been rumored for quite some time, look at how such advertising is used in children’s programming
  • Restrict interactive advertising directed at children.
  • Convene a summit to explore these issues

In addition to these proposal, the Commissioner gave a recent speech to the Media Institute in which he expanded on these ideas, and also lengthened this agenda to include further Commission action to define and restrict violent programming.  He also expressed his regrets over the recent decision overturning the FCC’s fines for fleeting expletives and urged that action be taken to overturn this decision (see our post here on the FCC’s appeal of that decision).  And in yet another recent speech, he emphasized the proceeding on Interactive advertising in children’s programming, remarking on how the Commission has a pending proceeding that has been pending and unresolved for several years.  He cited the Commission’s tentative conclusion to ban such ads, as broadcasters form a "portal" for children’s entrance to the Internet.  While the Commissioner expressed that the FCC had little jurisdiction to do much on the Internet itself (but see our recent post as asking whether the FCC may soon get more power over the Internet), he felt that restrictions on the links to the Internet from television programs would be useful in protecting children. 


Continue Reading The Regulation of TV Programming for Children – Embedded and Interactive Advertising, Violence, and Ratings

At last Thursday’s Public Hearing on multiple ownership in Chicago, about which we wrote here, a statement was read by a spokesman for Presidential candidate Barack Obama.  According to press reports, the statement expressed the candidate’s positions favoring shorter license renewal terms for broadcasters so that they would be subject to more public scrutiny, as well as criticizing the FCC for allowing broadcast consolidation.  These thoughts essentially echo the comments of FCC Commissioner Copps, especially on the subject of license renewal terms, whose views we wrote about here.  While many press reports have asked if this statement by Senator Obama foreshadows the broadcast ownership debate becoming part of the presidential campaign issues, we worry that it may signal a far broader attack on broadcasters during the upcoming political year.  The statement by Senator Obama is but one of a host of indications that broadcasters may face a rash of legislative issues that are now on the political drawing boards.

Broadcasters make easy targets for politicians as everyone is an expert on radio and television – after all, virtually everyone watches TV or listens to the radio and thus fancies themselves knowledgeable of what is good and bad for the public.  But those in Congress (and on the FCC) have the ability to do something about it.  And, with an election year upon us, they have the added incentive to act, given that any action is bound to generate at least some publicity and, for some, this may be their last opportunity to enact legislation that they feel important.  We’ve already written about the renewed emphasis, just last week, on passing legislation to overturn the Second Circuit’s decision throwing out the FCC’s fines on "fleeting expletives" and making the unanticipated use of one of those "dirty words" subject again to FCC indecency fines.  Clearly, no Congressman wants to be seen as being in favor of indecency (look at the rise in the indecency fines to $325,000 per occurrence which was voted through Congress just before the last election), and First Amendment issues are much more nuanced and difficult to explain to the voter, so watch this legislation.


Continue Reading One Sign That Broadcasters Are About to Become Political Footballs – Obama Suggests Shorter Broadcast License Terms and Less Consolidation

Last week, House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell reportedly stated that he favored the return of the Fairness Doctrine, and couldn’t see why broadcasters would be opposed.  We’ve suggested reasons, here and here.  But the reports are that Congressman Dingell may try to move legislation to accomplish the return of the Doctrine later this year.

On Thursday, the FCC issued its Report on violent programming on television, finding that such programming has a negative impact on the well being of children, and suggesting that Congressional action to restrict and regulate such programming would be appropriate.  A summary of the findings of the Commission can be found in our firm’s bulletin on the Report, here.  As we point out in our bulletin, the Commission did not adopt this report with a united voice, as both Commissioner Adelstein and McDowell expressed concerns about the thoroughness of the report, the practicality and constitutionality of drawing lines between permitted and prohibited violence in programming, and even whether the government is the proper forum for restricting access to such programming or whether this isn’t fundamentally an issue of family and parental control. 

The Report suggests that legislative action to restrict violent programming  or to channel it to certain time periods might be appropriate as parents are often not home when children watch television, and technological controls, like the V-Chip, are ineffective as parents don’t know that they exist or, if they are aware of the existence of the controls, they don’t know how to activate them.  The Commission also suggests that the ratings given to programs are not always accurate.  An interesting alternate take can be found in an article in Slate, here, citing a study not mentioned by the FCC finding that parents, even when carefully educated about the V-Chip and its uses, do not use it.  This seems to indicate that parents are not as concerned about the issue as is the FCC, and suggests that the real motivation is not restricting what is presented to children, but instead what is available to adults.


Continue Reading Violence on Television – FCC Issues Report Suggesting That Congressional Action Is Appropriate

As we’ve discussed before, here, the FCC has been reviewing their power to regulate violent programming on broadcast stations.  Despite the apparent constitutional and practical issues involved in such restrictions (e.g. are Roadrunner cartoons covered?), published reports indicate that a majority of the FCC Commissioners will issue a report asking Congress to give the FCC authority