Outside editorial: FCC reality check: Agency should drop outdated rule

Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Miami Herald:

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The Federal Communications Commission had good intentions in levying a $24 million fine against Univision for not complying with a federal rule mandating children's programming on broadcast-television networks. Unfortunately, that rule is outdated, and Congress should drop it.

The rule is based on a 1990 law that required television broadcasters to provide at least three hours of educational children's programming each week. It was designed for what was then a television market dominated by three networks.

Today, 90 percent of U.S. households get cable or satellite service, which now offer children's educational shows on specialized channels such as Disney and Nickelodeon and, in Spanish, Discovery Kids En Espanol and Sorpresa.

Like English-language networks that tried to use "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" to satisfy the rule, Univision argued that it complied by offering children-centered soap operas such as "Complices al rescate" ("Accomplices to the Rescue"). The FCC didn't buy it.

"Complices," which centers on twin girls separated at birth, was named in the complaint that triggered the investigation. The FCC found the show more akin to an adult telenovela. The record $24 million fine dwarfs the previous FCC record of $9 million levied against Qwest Communications for breaking telephone interconnection rules. Yet Univision had good reason to agree to the fine: It will clear the way for Univision's $12.3 billion sale to private investors.

Nonetheless, it is a shame that broadcast networks are saddled with such costs when they now compete directly with cable networks. It is refreshing to see the FCC pay attention to a Spanish-language broadcaster. But forcing a network to abide by an outdated rule isn't the answer. Congress and the FCC both should drop the children-programming rule and up-date broadcasting requirements to meet the current television-market reality.

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