Spots in the Spotlight

With the FCC targeting TV programming for indecency enforcement, the ad industry is getting nervous.

Most recently, the FCC fined a Puerto Rican station for an ad for music-video DVDs that involved scantily clad “women caressing their breasts and buttocks.” The fine, part of a $220,000 levy for a number of broadcasts, was the first advertisement to incur an indecency fine “in memory,” says Adonis Hoffman, senior VP/counsel to the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Dan Jaffe, executive VP, government relations, for the Association of National Advertisers, fears that broadcasters will clear fewer ads for content reasons. “Broadcast clearance of ads,” he says, “which already is very stringent, will only tighten up further.”

Adding to the nail-biting last week was a message from a powerful legislator. Mark Rogers, staff director for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), called on cable marketers to rethink the ads they air in sports programming, saying that was part of a multi-pronged content-control effort to “restrict the bad.”

“I know many of us, as we're watching sports shows, for example, with our children, immediately think of those awkward situations where the ad content is just obviously inappropriate,” Rogers said, adding that more attention to what is being advertised “at times when children are watching with us or without us would be very helpful.”

Good-News Stories

The Bush administration is pushing a media front in the war on terror.

Last week, President George W. Bush began raising his media profile in defense of the Iraq war in an effort to counter the perception that the U.S. is in an unwinnable war. The administration wants to get better at circulating good-news stories about infrastructure rebuilding and other positives.

In one exchange with reporters during a press conference, the president said, “I'm not suggesting you shouldn't talk about [an insurgent attack that killed 17 police officers]. I'm certainly not being—please, don't take that as criticism. But it also is a realistic assessment of the enemy's capability to affect the debate, and they know that.

“They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show. And, therefore, it affects the woman in Cleveland you were talking to. And I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win.”

In February, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. needs to get more media-savvy in the war on terror. “For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a five-and-dime store in an eBay world,” he said.

“They know that communications transcend borders and that a single news story, handled skillfully, can be as damaging to our cause and as helpful to theirs as any other method of military attack,” he said. “And they are doing it.”

Radio-Television News Director Barbara Cochran says the media have been covering some of the positive stories in Iraq. “Over the course of the three-year anniversary,” she says, “we have seen the media covering progress and some success stories.”

She suggests that there might be more positive stores if there weren't people literally shooting at the messengers. “Some of these stories can't be reported because the situation is too dangerous,” she says. The White House did not return a call for comment.

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John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.