A group of Washington policy savants sent a severe warning to TV station general managers at Monday’s INTV panel dubbed “Off the Air With Howard Stern.”
Not only will the FCC continue monitoring for violations of decency standards , but, under the direction of President Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress, the Federal Communications Commission will be putting an increased amount of scrutiny on compliance with the Children’s Programming Television Act and Equal Employment Opportunity regulations.
The panelists’ overriding message was that the laissez-faire days under 12 years of Republican administrations are over.
“You will see vigorous enforcement of EEO regulations,” predicted David Leach , staff member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. “You have an administration for the first time in years that’s peopled with people who have young children, and that will result in heightened concern for compliance with the Children’s Programming Television Act.”
Leach added that the days are over of licensee “nonsense” in claiming that they’re meeting kidvid requirements by running “The Flintstones” because it gives kids a glimpse of life in prehistoric times or “The Jetsons” because it educates young viewers about life in the 21st century.
A similar theme has been struck at sessions throughout INTV: cartoons no longer pass the litmus test of programming that serves the “educational and informational needs” of children.
Leach was the only panelist who thinks the FCC may push indecency issues to the back burner. Panel moderator Roy Stewart, chief of the FCC’s Mass Media Bureau, warned that stations are going to see “a pro-active” commission that will continue to be tough on indecency issues.
‘Hawks’ on indecency
Andrew Schwartzman, exec director of the D.C. public interest law firm Media Access Project, cautioned that Democratic commissioners James Quello and Ervin Duggan are “hawks” on indecency issues. Even if a First Amendment absolutist replaced outgoing FCC chairman Al Sikes, it would have little impact on the course of the commission, according to Schwartzman.
Schwartzman added that the Media Access Project will file suit in federal court to have a stay put on a rider attached last Friday in Congress to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting appropriation bill.
That bill would extend the so-called “safe harbor hours,” the time periods when programmers have less leeway on adult content.
Previously, safe harbor hours ended at 8 p.m.; under the new legislation, they are extended until midnight.