Capital Watch


Surprise Outcome

The old adage "Be careful what you wish for" has some currency for FCC Democrats. After begging the Republican majority to get tough on stations that don't do enough to serve local audiences, the agency is getting tough—at least on one station. An FCC administrative judge will decide whether KALW(FM) San Francisco should lose its license for filing false ownership and public-affairs–programming records in its renewal application. As part of their campaign to prove that big media conglomerates do a bad job serving local community needs, FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have pushed for just that kind of revocation review. The two Democrats are chagrined, however, that the first station subjected to an inquisition is not part of a corporate behemoth but a public station owned by San Francisco's school system. "We are troubled by the message," they say.

Cutting Slasher Ads

The Federal Trade Commission is putting another squeeze on TV advertising by Hollywood, record labels and videogame makers. Earlier this month, a new FTC report praised the entertainment industry for honoring pledges not to advertise violent movies, music and games when kids make up 35% of more of the audience.

Virtually unnoticed by the press coverage, however, was a call to cut back the ads even more. Now the FTC wants to halt marketing of violent entertainment during all of prime time, regardless of the percentage of children watching. That's because most prime time shows draw large raw numbers of kids. The FTC complained that 59 ads for seven films rated R for violence ran during an eight-week period in programs popular with teens. For instance, Matrix Reloaded
was advertised on WWE Smackdown
and BET's Rap City.

Power Shortage

Small TV-group owners are asking FCC Chairman Michael Powell to drop plans to force stations to reach their complete licensed coverage area with a DTV signal by a certain date. To save electricity costs, many small stations today transmit lower-power signals that reach only primary viewers, not outlying areas. For the FCC, though, letting stations cut their DTV power doesn't look good on Capitol Hill because lawmakers want progress on the transition, not stalling. But Raycom, owner of 39 small-market stations, Maryland's Draper Communications and Arizona State, operator of Phoenix public station KAET(TV), say it's unfair to reduce the official size of a station's market just for exercising its right to reduce power while the transition is under way.

Waiting Game Continues

Just as the FCC appeared set to rule, finally, on affiliates' three-year-old list of complaints against the networks, the commission punted the ruling back to agency staff for redrafting. Prompted by the complaints that affiliates didn't have authority to reject racy network programming, the FCC put the issue on a fast track this spring.

The affiliates' main complaint, filed by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA), is that past network contracts didn't allow them to preempt programs they believe are inappropriate. The FCC was expected to rule in NASA's favor. Recently, however, NBC and ABC penned agreements that satisfy most of NASA's concerns. CBS made peace with the affiliates two years ago. Fox has made progress, too, but affiliates complain that more work needs to be done. So many changes were created in the flurry of dealmaking that the bureau decided its new recommendation should take them into account. No word on when it will be back.