NAB, FCC square off over kidvid

Confident that FCC chairman Reed Hundt lacks the three FCC votes he needs to implement kidvid programming quotas, the broadcast industry’s top lobbyist last week challenged Hundt to schedule a final vote on the children’s programming issue by year-end.

The put-up-or-shut-up challenge came from National Association of Broadcasters president Edward 0. Fritts, who publicly accused Hundt of being “obsessed” with the issue of children’s programming quotas.

Fritts’ remarks were just one of several headline-grabbers on the kidvid front here last week. In addition, 25 senators led by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) fired off a letter to Hundt supporting tougher children’s TV requirements on broadcasters. The sole Republican to sign the missive was Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Also, Fox execs called a press conference here to refute Hundt’s assertion that broadcasters have done little to meet their obligations under the Children’s Television Act. “It’s very dismaying to read we’re being cavalier about the act,” said Fox Children’s Network president Margaret Loesch. “It simply isn’t true.”

To bolster its case, Fox submitted a filing at the FCC claiming Fox affiliates currently average four hours per week of children’s educational programming. That’s more than the three-hour-per-week programming requirement being sought by Hundt on all commercial TV stations.

Landers weighs in

For months, Hundt has waged an unrelenting campaign to drum up support for his three-hour plan. Hundt has indeed drawn public attention to the issue – last week even syndicated columnist Ann Landers carried a Hundt letter promoting his idea – but FCC sources say the chairman has made little headway in gaining a three-vote majority from the five FCC members.

The NAB’s Fritts took Hundt to task for stalling final action on the children’s TV issue. In a speech before Connecticut broadcasters, Fritts claimed Hundt’s staff orchestrated a four-month delay in the vote by asking broadcasters to seek an extension in the proceeding. After granting the extension, Hundt then proceeded “to blast the television industry at every opportunity,” Fritts said.

Fritts professed to be “bemused by the fact that the chairman… is so obsessed with a singular topic. One thing is certain,” Fritts said. “Chairman Hundt made up his mind long ago that broadcasters were to be castigated on children’s TV, without reservation, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Game over?

In a reference to Hundt’s apparent inability to corral three votes at the FCC for his kidvid quotas, Fritts claimed the FCC chairman is “acting like a regulatory referee wanting to push the game into overtime even though the final score is lopsided.”

Hundt should call for a vote on the children’s TV proceeding at the December meeting, Fritts said. “It’s time to quit looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The 21st century is nearing fast and the regulations of the 1960s were eclipsed years ago,” he said.

Jeff Chester of the activist watchdog group Center for Media Education said Hundt deserves praise for his aggressive stand in favor of kids’ educational programming.

“What is NAB afraid of?” Chester asked. “For the first time in 15 years, there’s an FCC chairman who’s not under the thumb of the broadcast lobby.”

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