Regulators to probe television content

Wednesday, September 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — One day after the entertainment industry came under criticism for targeting adult material to children, federal regulators said Tuesday they will take a close look at the amount of sex and violence beamed into living rooms by television networks.

The examination will focus on whether broadcasters are promoting inappropriate programming when children are likely to be watching TV.

``We believe that broadcasters' obligation is not only to protect children from objectionable programming but also to offer positive and educational programming for children,'' wrote FCC Chairman William Kennard in a letter to lawmakers.

Kennard's announcement came during what has shaped up as a tough week for the people who produce and distribute movies, video games, pop music, and television shows. First, came a Federal Trade Commission report decrying the ``pervasive and aggressive marketing'' of adult material to children. Now, the FCC is taking a tougher look at TV programming.

Two of the Senate's leading critics of the industry — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut — will confront entertainment executives Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee chaired by McCain.

Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, agreed that it is not suitable to target R-rated films to very young children, but asserted that the FTC's report is based on subjective judgments.

For example, the commission determined that R-rated movies were advertised on TV programs most popular with the under-17 group. But, Valenti said, for many of these shows, the majority of the audience is 18 and over.

``We are not dealing with Euclid's geometry where the equations are pristine and explicit,'' he said in remarks prepared for delivery at the hearing. Still, he pledged the industry would examine how it advertises and conducts research so that it does not deliberately target underage viewers.

Also planning to attend the session is Lynne Cheney, wife of Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney. Head of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 until President Clinton took office in January 1993, Lynne Cheney has been an outspoken critic of federal grants for the arts.

The report's conclusions continued to reverberate Tuesday. The Walt Disney Co. announced changes in its marketing practices, including a prohibition against theater owners showing trailers for R-rated films before movies released under the Walt Disney label. The Disney-owned ABC network also will not accept advertisements for R-rated films during prime time before 9 p.m.

The company said it would not show R-rated films — released under the Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films labels — to focus groups under age 17 and would urge theater owners to more strictly enforce the age restriction. The company does not release R-rated films under the Walt Disney label.

That didn't stop calls by South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon Tuesday for state AGs to band together and bring a lawsuit against Hollywood.

Kennard scheduled FCC hearings on the content of broadcast TV for October, after a group of senators, including Lieberman and McCain, complained about sexual vulgarity and violence on the airwaves several months ago.

The senators have questioned whether broadcasters, who enjoy free access to the public airwaves, are providing programming that benefits the nation, particularly young viewers and service the public interest.

On Tuesday, Lieberman lauded Kennard for addressing the lawmakers' concerns about television content.

``It shows that the FCC is sensitive to the concerns of parents and the needs of children,'' he said. ``And it shows that the FCC is prepared to act to uphold the public interest.''

Kennard joined Lieberman in calling for broadcasters to revive a voluntary industry programming code to ensure the appropriateness of programming during times children are likely to be watching.

The National Association of Broadcasters declined to comment Tuesday.
Broadcasters currently have obligations in return for free use of analog channels. Those include providing public affairs and educational children's programs and making air time available to political candidates at low rates.

The FCC now is in the process of determining how broadcasters can repay the public for obtaining digital channels worth tens of billions of dollars without charge from the government.

The agency is expected to take one step in that process at its Thursday meeting, when it will propose rules for how current broadcasting requirements for children's TV should be extended as station's switch from analog to digital formats.
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