|Search news by keyword||Category||Date Range|
Linda – A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC is levying a record 24 million dollar fine against a Spanish language Broadcaster.
Tom - Last week, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc. agreed in principle to pay an unusually steep $24 million fine for violating the Children’s Television Act, which requires broadcasters to show three hours of educational programming a week, Federal Communications Commission officials said. In exchange, the FCC will approve Univision’s sale to a consortium of private-equity groups for $12.3 billion. This is the largest fine assessed by the FCC against a company, far exceeding the $9 million fine given to Qwest Communications in 2004 for violating FCC rules and the $3.6 million indecency fine proposed against CBS and its affiliates last year for an episode of the crime drama “Without a Trace.”
Linda – So how had Univision violated FCC rules?
Tom – Univision was accused by watchdog groups of violating children’s broadcast standards on 24 stations between 2004 and 2006 by claiming that a soap opera about 11-year-old identical twin girls, was educational. Several childrens advocacy and church groups complained it wasn’t. After airing for over two years on Univision, the FCC finally decided to take action levying this record fine.
Linda – What are the actual FCC rules concerning children’s programming and how do other broadcasters meet these requirements?
Tom – The FCC mandates that TV broadcasters, as part of their public interest obligations, air three hours of children’s educational TV a week, and that these programs be designated with a particular onscreen graphic. The broadcasters are required to submit descriptions of their children’s programming, explaining how they are educational and when they air. This information is then required to be kept in the broadcasters public file and is available for public viewing. Now, the FCC has no hard definition of what constitutes educational children’s TV, giving broadcasters wide latitude in determining that.
Linda – So what do our local stations run as educational?
Tom – The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy has researched all three stations to see what they list as educational TV, and it’s really rather interesting to see how broadly they interpret “educational.” Much of the programming is cartoons, often from from Disney, nature shows, or even offerings like “NFL under the helmet.” Also, unlike in many other countries, broadcasters in the US are allowed to run advertisements during times earmarked for children. The studies by GRIID show that the majority of the ads run during these shows where for unhealthy food items or where self-promotional ads for the station itself. So while this FCC fine against Univision is an interesting development, it certainly does not indicate that the FCC has developed any well defined or consistent requirements as to what constitutes appropriate programming for children.
Linda – Govenor Jennifer Granholm has introduced legislation intended to protect the concept of “net neutrality”
Tom - Granholm’s proposed legislation protecting net neutrality were among a series of resolutions state Democrats put their weight behind during their recent convention. Last year, Granholm signed a state-wide cable franchising bill that was opposed by the google corporation and consumer and internet advocates because it failed to protect net neutrality. She had justified signing that legislation by promising to address net neutrality issues in separate legislation. The proposed legislation reads “To encourage broadband development and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the Internet, Michigan consumers are entitled to access of lawful Internet content of their choice without interference by their Internet service providers.”
Linda – A recent poll by the associated press found that when surveyed, US citizens seriously underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the 2003 US invasion.
Tom – A recent poll found that Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq. But according to a new AP-Ipsos poll they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed. This poll was conducted earlier this month when US losses were at 3,100 about troops killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. The midpoint estimate among those polled was right on target, with people saying that they thought US casualties were about 3,000. This was much more accurate than people’s estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths. According to the poll, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890 for the entire conflict. The reality is that the number of civilian deaths is much higher, with estimates running from 54,000 to as high as 600,000, as reported in the British medical journal the Lancet. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.
Linda – What would account for this substantial underestimation of Iraqi war casualties by the US public?
Tom – Certainly media coverage plays a large role in explaining this discrepancy in people’s knowledge on this topic. Far greater coverage is given to US troop losses than to Iraq civilian losses. One reason has been the government’s reluctance to report civilian loss figures. For example, the December 2006 Iraq Study Group found that the United States has filtered out reports of violence in order to disguise its policy failings in Iraq ]. In one instance, the ISG found that U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence on one day in July 2006, yet "a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light more than 1,100 acts of violence." The policy of the US government has been to not release Iraqi death counts, although when asked last year by reporters how many Iraqis had been killed, President Bush responded with a low estimate of “30,000 more or less.”
Also, the US media have tended to spend far more time focusing on US troops killed, often times reporting on individual soldier deaths while many Iraqi deaths go unreported. According to reports conducted by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy, the three Grand Rapids area TV stations devoted almost half of their Iraq war coverage to stories on local soldiers who have been killed, often giving a good deal of information about the individual soldiers. And while this amount of coverage on local soldier deaths is certainly warranted, it is not accompanied with anywhere near that amount of coverage of Iraqi civilian deaths. This imbalance in media coverage is illustrated in these recent AP poll numbers which show that the US public is much better informed about US casualties than Iraqi casualties.
Linda – We will provide links to the AP poll on our website.
Linda – It’s being reported that the new budget presented by the president would cut funding to public broadcasting by 25%. Tom, more on this?
Tom – According to the progressive magazine, President Bush is proposing to cut federal funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by nearly 25%. Bush’s budget recommendations are similar to cuts he requested last year, although citizens successfully called on Congress to reinstate funding. Organizations have lined up on both sides of this issue. MoveOn.org has started a petition drive urging Congress to fully restore this year’s funding and to provide a permanent funding stream free from political pressure. The group says it has 600,000 signatures already. On the other end of the debate, the American Family Association has started its own petition drive to halt Congressional funding.
Linda – What effects could this funding cut have on PBS?
Tom – According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, these budget cuts include the $50 million already appropriated by Congress for next year, elimination of additional funding for digital conversion of public TV stations and a slight decrease in the Ready to Learn program. In addition to the cuts, the traditional advance funding for future years' programs would disappear, potentially making it harder for public stations to commit to future TV programming. Lea Sloan, a spokeswoman for PBS described the cuts as "disastrous" and noted that "For PBS, it could mean the end of our ability to support some of the most treasured educational children's series and primetime icons to which CPB funding contributes,"