The Federal Communications Commission is expected to fine the Spanish-language Univision Communications Inc. $24 million for violating the Children’s Television Act over its claims that a soap opera was educational. The fine would be the largest the FCC has levied against any company.
Under the Children’s Television Act of 1990, TV licensees must air at least three hours of children’s educational programming per week.
The proposed fine stems from a petition filed in 2005 by the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ to deny the license renewal of WQHS-TV, Univision’s Cleveland station and one of 26 it owns.
Univision aired “Complices al Rescate” (Friends to the Rescue), which it said in FCC filings qualified as educational programming under the law’s regulations.
However, an expert on communications and Latinos in the media, hired by the United Church of Christ, said that while the show was family-oriented, any educational content, “at best, [was] incidental.”
While the telenovela, or soap opera, starred 11-year-old twin girls, the show was targeted to adults, not children, said Angela J. Campbell, the counsel for the United Church of Christ and a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.
The FCC is now working on a consent decree with Univision, which, besides the hefty fine, could include a requirement for the broadcaster to air more children’s programming.
Some observers have suggested Los Angeles-based Univision is eager to agree to the consent decree so a planned $13.7 billion acquisition of it by a group of private-equity investment firms can become final. Univision did not return messages seeking comment.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., the lead sponsor of the Children’s Television Act, applauded the expected FCC fine, telling a conference sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters last week, “It is vital for the commission to enforce the law when licensees fail to live up to their obligation.”
The episode is reminiscent of the early period after the law’s passage, when some TV stations claimed that cartoons such as “The Jetsons” and reruns such as “Leave It to Beaver” satisfied the law’s requirement for educational programming. The FCC eventually adopted rules that spelled out a narrower definition of what would qualify.
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week