FCC chairman Reed Hundt’s campaign for kidvid quotas suffered another slight last week as three FCC members sought to block his request for the Big Three networks to identify which kids’ TV programs its affiliates deem to be educational.
The trio of James Quello, Rachelle Chong and Andrew Barrett – dubbed the “Gang of Three” here for their increasingly aggressive opposition to Hundt’s agenda- sent Hundt a letter Nov. 7 protesting the chairman’s decision to ask ABC, CBS and NBC to provide a breakdown of each educational kids’ program carried by affils.
“It is not clear to us that the heavy burden imposed by this request to the networks is warranted,” wrote the three FCC members, who added, “it (should) be made clear that the (networks) are not required to reply to these information requests.”
The FCC troika also expressed concern the Hundt request could result in a “significant delay” in a final vote on kidvid rules, and that the request violates the federal Paperwork Reduction Act.
The letter comes amid Hundt’s controversial – and thus far unsuccessful – campaign for three-hour-a-week kidvid educational program quotas for all commercial TV stations. Hundt’s data request to the Big Three came only after Fox Broadcasting supplied the FCC with a detailed list of how each Fox affiliate is attempting to fulfill a law passed by Congress requiring broadcasters to meet the educational needs of moppets.
Hundt and kidvid activists argue that if Fox can supply such detailed information, then why can’t the Big Three?
“If the three networks don’t know what their affiliates are doing, then they don’t deserve to be networks,” said Peggy Charren, the retired founder of Action for Children’s Television. Charren added it is “absolutely preposterous” for Quello, Chong and Barrett to cite the possibility of delay as a reason for not seeking more data from the Big Three.
“What’s another month?” Charren asked. “It’s not like the FCC has ever been hot to trot to make broadcasters meet then public interest obligations.”
The FCC has gotten conflicting data on just how well broadcasters are meeting their kidvid duties. The National Assn. of Broadcasters claims that stations now average more than four hours of educational programming per week, more than double that in 1990. Yet a recent study by UC Santa Barbara Prof. Dale Kunkel found that many stations count as “educational” programs such as “Biker Mice From Mars” and “Yogi Bear.”
Quello, Chong and Barrett said that instead of requiring webs supply “burdensome” data, the FCC should rely on follow-up requests already made to the NAB and Kunkel. That way, the agency could avoid receiving duplicative material, they argued.
Hundt’s reply to the FCC trio was typical of a chairman who doesn’t like to lose: Thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks.
In a response crafted at Hundt’s behest by Mass Media Bureau chief Roy Stewart and general counsel William Kennard, the two argued that the network data is needed to ensure “a more complete and reliable record” before the FCC votes to revise its kidvid rules.
Stewart and Kennard wrote that the networks “will not be penalized” if they don’t provide the data. However, broadcast industry execs scoff at that notion, saying they fully anticipate Hundt to publicly chastise the Big Three on every occasion should his request be upheld and they not comply.
Meanwhile, FCC member Susan Ness – who’s been Hundt’s closest ally on kidvid but has yet to commit to quotas – said she supports the call for more data from the Big Three.
“I can imagine no basis on which anyone could reasonably object to asking broadcasters to compile and submit… information that they have already recorded in their files,” she wrote.