Fines in the tens of thousands are intended to get broadcasters’ attention regarding limitations on commercials during children’s television programs

When you got in trouble as child, your defense probably involved either: (1) pleading a lack of criminal mindset or claiming this was an aberration, while highlighting your otherwise good behavior (“I didn’t mean to do it, it was an accident”); or (2) seeking safety in numbers (“Timmy was doing it too”).

Neither ever really worked, did it? (For the record, as you moved into your adult years, you quickly realized they don’t work on trafffic cops either:  “I swear, officer, I didn’t realize I was doing 75, I never go that fast. I was just keeping up with traffic”).

Add the FCC to the list of unsympathetic audiences.

The Commission took action last week  against seven major television stations which had copped to exceeding at one time or another the FCC’s rules limiting commercial matter in children’s television programming to  10.5 minutes an hour on weekends and 12 minutes an hour on weekdays.  (Anyone interested in either (a) seeing precisely what the FCC had to say or (b) seeking the thrill of schadenfreude can read the decisions here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

In admitting to these infractions in their license renewal applications, some stations plead innocence, claiming that the overages were attributable to inadvertent staff errors, the departure of key employees, misunderstandings by staff, failure to review programming and scheduling errors. Others tried to highlight their general dedication to children’s programming and a good track record at the FCC. The fact that “everyone was doing it” (not, to our knowledge, raised as a defense) didn’t help either. Though the overages were often very slight — seconds in duration — the FCC noted a cumulative effect that required strong, deterrent action. Citing anywhere from 86 to 164 violations per station, the FCC decided that the problem was speeding wildly out of control.

The FCC concluded that the substantial increase in violations could only have resulted from a lack of oversight by licensees who weren’t sufficiently deterred by previous forfeitures.   Thinking something stronger than “go to your room and think about what you’ve done” was in order, the Commission assessed forfeitures ranging from $25,000 to $70,000 against each station.

The FCC is sending a clear message to broadcasters, one they should be hearing loud and clear: “We don’t care if you’re generally a good licensee, you have to pay attention to the rules. When we say ‘no more than 10.5/12 minutes’, by golly, we mean no more than 10.5/12 minutes. And we don’t care what that TV station across town is doing. If it said it was going to jump off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too? Of course not, so just because they may be violating Children’s TV rules doesn’t mean you can.”