FCC NOMINEE SEES MERIT IN AD BOYCOTTS

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WASHINGTON-Sponsor boycotts were hailed last week as a "creative" consumer response to TV violence by the newest Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission.

Rachelle Chong, a 34-year-old communications attorney from San Francisco, endorsed the idea of sponsor boycotts in response to questioning at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Ms. Chong and Democrat Susan Ness, 46, were nominated by President Clinton to fill existing FCC vacancies.

In a discussion of TV violence, Ms. Chong specifically alluded to pending legislation from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) to require the FCC to publish every three months a list of the most violent TV shows and their sponsors.

"That way, consumers can vote with their purchases and write to sponsors" to protest TV violence, Ms. Chong said. "I think that is a very creative way to look at the problem."

Both Ms. Chong and Ms. Ness applauded recent initiatives by broadcast and cable executives to address public concern over violent programs.

Those expressions followed several minutes of anti-TV harangues from committee members, most notably Sen. John Danforth (R., Mo.), who dismissed broadcast and cable fare as "sleaze" and "garbage" and "crud."

"Have you ever seen `Geraldo'?" Sen Danforth asked, almost rhetorically. "It's always an array of people with ... alternative lifestyles ... and it makes money. There is no public interest being served by broadcasters and cable. Their main course is violence and sleaze."

On other issues, the Clinton nominees were mostly tight-lipped-apparently too much so for Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.). A conservative with a strong dislike for government regulation, Sen. McCain tried to elicit from the nominees their feelings on the fairness doctrine and whether the regulation requiring broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues should be resurrected.

Noting that neither nominee gave a very specific answer to written questions, Sen. McCain, a strong opponent of the fairness doctrine, pressed them for a clearer explanation of whether they favored its restoration.

Broadcasters and the ad industry opposed the fairness doctrine historically, arguing that it actually reduced debate on controversial issues and shouldn't be revived.

Ms. Ness, a communications attorney and VP-group head at American Securities Bank, said regulation of any sort should be least restrictive to not threaten First Amendment rights. When, in response to Sen. McCain's argument that the explosion of cable channels provides ample outlets for divergent views, Ms. Chong said there were "never enough" outlets, Sen. McCain became noticeably irritated.

Although both remained short on specifics, Ms. Chong and Ms. Ness endorsed the proposed major overhaul of federal communications law, largely because of the need to build an information superhighway.

Ms. Chong also endorsed revising communications law this year but said that if Congress fails to do so, the FCC would continue its "piecemeal" approach to opening the industry to more competition.

Ms. Chong also questioned the appropriateness of a recent White House proposal to raise user fees for broadcasters as a means of financing immigration reform or making up for lost tariffs in the wake of a new General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade.

"I am concerned about the idea of taxing licensees for ... programs that are unrelated," she said.

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