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FCC to Examine Children's Exposure to TV Sex, Violence


WASHINGTON — A second federal agency on Tuesday trained regulatory scrutiny on the beleaguered entertainment industry--announcing a new examination focusing on the amount of sex and violence aired by the nation's television stations.

The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the powerful broadcasting industry, said it will examine whether stations are promoting inappropriate programming when children are likely to be watching TV.

"We believe that broadcasters' obligation is not only to protect children from objectionable programming but also to offer positive and educational programming for children," wrote FCC Chairman William Kennard in a letter to Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Kennard added: "As a parent, I . . . share your concerns about the effect of television on our children."

The FCC's initiative came the day after the Federal Trade Commission released an exhaustive study that found the entertainment industry systematically marketed violent, adult-oriented films, music and video games to consumers under 17 years old.

At least four entertainment industry executives--including Artemis Records President Danny Goldberg and Peter Moore, president of video game giant Sega of America--are expected to face tough questioning about the FTC's findings during a hearing today being held by the Senate Commerce Committee.

But the timing of the hearing, Kennard's letter and the FTC report have fueled outrage among some Hollywood executives--and sparked suggestions by some groups that Washington lawmakers may be trying to reap political gains from regulatory scrutiny of Hollywood.

President Clinton initially gave the FTC until December to complete its report on the entertainment industry. And the FCC was approached about the issue back in May by a group of senators that included Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, now the Democratic vice presidential candidate. But the lawmakers who initiated the inquiries deny any politics is being played.

"We actually pushed the FTC to release their report [earlier]. We are disappointed that it took this long," said Dan Gerstein, Lieberman's communications director. "The timing is purely coincidental."

A spokeswoman for the FCC said she didn't know why the agency chose to announce an October hearing the day after the FTC report was released.

David Horowitz, head of a 1st Amendment watchdog group, questioned the timing of the government's initiatives. "I don't know what the motivation . . . is, but the FCC's letter--coming out on the heels of the FTC's report--seems awfully curious," said Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition Inc. of New York. "It is a concern when we start hearing that about new regulation and legislation" that could run afoul of the 1st Amendment.

In his letter, Kennard said the FCC will hold hearings in October to solicit public comment on broadcasters' programming obligations to children. The announcement comes four months after Lieberman and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) wrote a lengthy letter to the FCC complaining about sexual vulgarity and violence on the airwaves.

The senators sought assurances from the FCC that the agency would consider examining TV programming when station owners come before the FCC to renew their broadcast licenses. They also wanted the FCC to create an industry code of conduct.

Kennard endorsed the senators' call for broadcasters to revive a voluntary industry programming code to ensure the appropriateness of programming during times children are likely to be watching. Legal experts, however, said a revival of the code could face a court challenge because the Justice Department ruled in 1982 that a previous broadcast industry code violated antitrust laws.

In another initiative, the FCC on Thursday will review at its monthly meeting how children's programming requirements should be extended in a new era of broadcasting as the nation's TV stations transition from analog to digital formats. Under current FCC rules, stations must air three hours of educational programming for children each week. A decision on revising the rules is not expected to be finalized until next year.

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