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FCC petitioned to ban shopping shows on PTV

Originally published in Current, Aug. 1, 1994
By Steve Behrens

Nine months after Chicago's WTTW experimented with a pre-Christmas home-shopping program (in October 1993), media reform groups have petitioned the FCC to prevent public broadcasters from doing it again.

WTTW, for one, says it has no plans to air more home-shopping shows.

"Right now, we've decided locally that we will not be doing it again this fall," said WTTW Senior Vice President Bruce Marcus. While he's glad the station did the experiment, "it didn't produce the results we were looking for to make it worth the time and effort," he explained.

If the petition succeeds, home shopping could become an even less attractive option.

Attorneys at Georgetown University's Institute for Public Representation and the Media Access Project filed the papers in July 1994 on behalf of a persistent WTTW watchdog group, the Coalition for Democracy in Public Television.

The media reform groups asked the FCC to fine WTTW, to consider its deeds when license renewal time comes around, and to declare that public broadcasters cannot air program-length commercial matter in the future.

WTTW's Holiday Gift Exchange, aired over about 40 hours between Oct. 16 and 31, 1993, was "repugnant to the very notion of noncommercial broadcast service," the petition said.

The petition charged that the program not only carried advertising, "contrary to law," but also violated an FCC rule against public stations raising funds on-air for anyone other than themselves. During the Holiday Gift Exchange, WTTW sold merchandise of its own as well as items from the gift shops of Chicago's major museums, orchestra and zoo.

In a few extraordinary cases, the FCC has granted waivers permitting certain public stations to air telethons for another nonprofit, but the petitioners contend that WTTW didn't seek and would not have received such a waiver.

WTTW's attorney, Lawrence Miller, said the station had proceeded in good faith, believing that no waiver was necessary. The station will respond to the petition later this month, he said.

Marcus noted that WTTW had gotten few complaints about the experiment and said the petitioners are "a few individuals trying to get an elected board [of directors for WTTW] here in Chicago, and are grabbing onto every issue they can."

Another station spokesperson found another way to dismiss the challenge from the Coalition for Democracy in Public Television and its spokesman Scott Sanders. "We have bent over backwards to be respectful of Scott Sanders and to cooperate with him on many issues," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He should get a life."

Sanders said the coalition represents more than 170 Chicago-area groups, including the Coalition for New Priorities, Greater Chicago Citizens for the Arts, and Operation PUSH.

Web page posted Nov. 8, 1995
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.


WTTW tries broadcasting a pre-holidays home shopping service, 1993.


FCC finds violation in WTTW tryout of home shopping, 1995.