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UCC Media Justice Update

Kids Without Internet Get No Help from FCC

Working on social justice always involves steps forward and steps back. Even as last week we celebrated a step forward in communications policy, today we are pushed forcefully back. Today's 2 and a half page ruling by the Federal Communications Commission to reject two 10-year old petitions consisting of hundreds of pages by the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners are as deaf to the public interest and the Commission's role as any rulings under any administration. 

 

At the same time that Chairman Wheeler stood up to special interests in the Net Neutrality vote last week, the FCC's media bureau--which ultimately reports to the Chairman's office--was busy taking dictation from the broadcast lobby.  The losers are children who rely on broadcast TV—which is a lot of low income families and households of color.

 

These complaints were part of a series of complaints filed in 2004 and 2005. These complaints were designed to give the FCC a chance to issue rulings that would clarify that some of the most egregious violations of the Children's Television Act were out of bounds. We challenged soap operas posing as educational television for Spanish-speaking children. We challenged programming filled with advertisements for Medigap insurance and incontinence products as clearly not directed to children. We challenged programming described by our expert analysts as "among the most violent children’s shows … seen in … 20 years of studying children’s television" as insufficient to meet the children's educational obligations of broadcasters. 

 

While those petitions took immense resources and involvement from churches and communities all around the country, these examples were selected because they were egregious and obvious violations of law. In 2007 the Bush FCC fined Univision $24 million dollars--at the time the largest FCC fine ever levied--based on one of the petition about the now-infamous Complices al Rescate soap opera. Eight years ago, the pending NBC acquisition forced the FCC to take the petition seriously. Today, we have no merger to focus attention on broadcasters, and this order is released on Wheeler's watch when attention is focused elsewhere.

 

In the distant future, the business of television might well exclude any reliance on FCC licenses. But that time is not now. As we explained recently in a letter to the FCC asking them to take up this issue, the nearly 100 million US households that don’t subscribe to broadband are more likely to depend on broadcast TV for educational shows and, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, minorities currently make up 41% of broadcast-only homes. For the children in these households, educational programming at home comes from broadcast TV. 

 

And today the FCC's action told these children that no one is willing to look out for them.

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