FCC urged to take action on ads

Lawmakers take aim at product placement

Congress has a message for Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin: You’ve got mail.

Some key lawmakers have sent letters to the nation’s top telecom regulator prodding him for action on product placement and newsroom consolidation.

“In our view, the blurring of the line between advertising and content represented by product placement and integration is unfair and deceptive if it occurs without adequate disclosures to the viewing public,” Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote Martin on Wednesday. “In some extreme cases, it may also undermine the integrity of the television programming itself.”

The legislators cited disclosure requirements of the original Communications Act of 1934 that may be violated by product placement. They also commended Martin for his recent announcement that he intended to examine this issue via an agency proceeding. “We encourage you to commence such action soon,” they said.

“We believe the commission should examine the growth in product placement and product integration and how this trend affects the overall composition and nature of television programming. As part of this inquiry, the commission should also review the criteria broadcasters and cable operators currently use to distinguish between commercial and creative content. This proceeding should also review the commission’s rules governing sponsorship disclosure.”

Markey is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, which has oversight of the FCC, and Waxman heads up the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Separately, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) followed up on a letter he sent to Martin 18 months ago, saying in his new communication, “I write again to request that you seek public comment on the specific issue of newsroom consolidation.”

The FCC is currently reviewing the overall issue of media ownership and consolidation but has yet to look specifically at effects on news operations — a pressing matter, Weiner indicated.

“CBS is demanding, as part of their negotiations with the Writers Guild, the unlimited right to merge news operations,” Weiner said.

“When CBS merged the operations of KCAL and KCBS in Los Angeles,” Weiner continued, “they cut back reporting staff, local news, investigative reporting and community involvement. When there are fewer news professionals on the street and fewer stories are covered, the community loses.

“These newsroom consolidations are not directly related to ownership consolidation, so they do not receive any specific oversight from the commission. This issue is important enough to warrant its own area of investigation,” Weiner concluded.

The Writers Guild of America East endorsed Weiner’s letter. “We’re thrilled that Congressman Weiner has directly requested public hearings specifically looking into newsroom consolidation,” WGAE prexy Michael Winship said in a statement. “Consolidation harms our members’ ability to deliver quality journalism to the public, shrinking news staffs and eliminating jobs.”

WGA West president Patric Verrone and SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg also issued statements in support of Weiner. Rosenberg noted that actors can lose endorsement contracts with advertisers because they are linked with products as a result of product integration on TV and film.

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