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Congress plans investigation of kidvid gripes

Congress is planning oversight hearings soon to investigate complaints that broadcasters are ignoring a new law requiring them to meet the educational needs of children.

That was the message yesterday at the opening of the Assn. of Independent Television Stations (INTV) convention from Larry Irving, an aide to House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Irving said lawmakers “spilled a lot of blood” getting the new children’s TV bill passed and “they’re not very happy” about reports of industry non-compliance.

The bill–which was passed two years ago–forces broadcasters to meet the educational requirements of moppets, and limits advertising during kidvid periods to 10 1/2 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes on weekdays.

The FCC recently fined two stations $ 10,000 and another $ 20,000 for exceeding the blurb limits.

Consumer watchdog groups have rapped broadcasters for claiming that programs such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “Gilligan’s Island” are sufficient to meet children’s educational needs.

Irving warned that stations making such claims “are going to hear about it” from Congress. “You can look forward to very, very close scrutiny” in the next few months.

Irving was one of several congressional staffers and FCC aides who participated in a discussion of issues that will affect broadcasters in the Clinton administration.

At the same session, David Leach, an aide to House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), said it is “increasingly likely” that the first budget from the new administration will call for broadcasters to pay FCC “user fees.” User fees–designed to cover the cost of industry enforcement by the FCC–were proposed by the Bush administration butnever enacted into law.

Toni Cook, an aide to Senate communications subcommittee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), said she believes Congress will reinstate the Fairness Doctrine “early in the year.” The doctrine, which requires broadcasters to air both sides of a controversial issue, was repealed by the FCC during the Reagan administration.

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