July 21st, 2011
Critics: FCC not policing kids' TV
TV watchdog groups say the Federal Communications Commission needs to better target kids’ programs that have too many commercials, and they want the commission and Congress to strengthen oversight of the Children’s Television Act.
Fueling the drive is a Government Accountability Office report issued last week that highlights FCC shortcomings in enforcing the landmark 1990 law intended to raise the quality and educational value of children’s programming while also limiting advertising. The report said the FCC has been lax in ensuring compliance from cable and satellite providers and questioned the commission’s guidelines for determining the educational value of children’s shows.
“It’s another example of FCC priorities being out of whack and the entire commission not taking its responsibility to uphold the law seriously,” said Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, a nonprofit group dedicated to responsible entertainment. “When you look at the sort of selective enforcement on this issue … it’s an indictment of the entire agency.”
Aside from parent and child advocacy groups, the FCC is also drawing criticism from one of the original authors of the law, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Markey called the FCC’s enforcement of the law in some areas “weak.”
“More needs to be done to give parents the knowledge and the know-how to ensure that they have the tools to find educational programming for their children and hold broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers accountable for their statutory and regulatory requirements,” Markey said in a statement to POLITICO.
The renewed attention to the law already has the FCC in motion. In a bow to the report’s findings, the commission responded by saying it has reinstated an audit program that uses agency investigators to review public filings of cable and satellite operators to ensure compliance with advertising restrictions of the law.
The FCC stopped monitoring cable and satellite operators after 2004. Since then, the commission has had no way of knowing whether violations were occurring because the paid-content providers don’t self-report violations. Traditional broadcasters, which are required to self-report infractions as part of their FCC license renewal process, have reported more than 6,000 advertising violations during that time.
The GAO called it “unbalanced enforcement” of the law. Some observers had stronger words.
“The law is not really being enforced. Clearly, something’s awry,” said Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is pushing the FCC to cite MTV Networks for a violation of the law over a cartoon the group says amounts to a commercial for Skechers sneakers.