The federal government has been asked to impose limits on the number of commercials and amount of promotional material broadcast by television stations.
The National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, a group seeking changes in media law chaired by Ralph Nader, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to set a ceiling on the amount of time broadcasters can devote to commercials and the number of interruptions allowed during each program.
The NCCB action comes two months after the Justice Department filed suit against the National Association of Broadcasters, claiming that the NAB Code - which the industry uses to set its own commercial regulations - was in violation of antitrust rules.
The Justice Department suit was criticized widely by consumer groups who felt that its success would allow an unbridled proliferation of commercials.
"The NAB Code probably does violate antitrust laws," said NCCB executive director Sam Simon yesterday, "but the Justice Department suit may well result in the elimination of any restraints on excessive advertising in television. It's time for the FCC to make sure that the audience has a voice in those policies and is not subjected to excessive, annoying commercial interruptions."
In 1963, the FCC considered imposing limits similar to those proposed yesterday by the NCCB. But at the time, the agency decided to rely on industry self-regulation through the NAB television code.
FCC Chairman Charles Ferris said the NCCB proposal "will be studied carefully."
"The Justice Department suit may be good antitrust policy," Ferris sayd, "but it is questionable communications policy. We have a responsibility where the marketplace can't regulate behavior to do it ourselves."
Ferris said his agency's ongoing investigation into children's programming is already studying the impact of commercials with respect to children.
"The system is in place to be able to respond to the questions raised by this petition," Ferris said. "We have to find out if the broadcasting industry is living within the NAB code, and if the marketplace itself serves as a limiting factor to commercial abuse."
The NCCB petition specifically calls for the following new regulations:
Limit the total non-program material that may be aired to ten minutes per hour (more when demand for political advertising is high) during most broadcast hours. Limit advertising to five minutes an hour during children's programming.
Reduce clutter, i.e. the promotional announcements, station breaks and other announcements that may now be shown without restrictions.
Limit the number of program interruptions to four breaks an hour for adult broadcasts, and one break per half hour between children's programs.
Place no restrictions on the length of commercials, except to continue the ban on subliminal advertising.
Encourage the use of public service announcements by permitting additional commercial time if PSA's are used.
Move toward elimination of all advertising from children's programming as soon as possible.
Permit unlimited interruption of programming for news bulletins.