WASHINGTON (AP) – Viacom Inc. will pay $1 million and The Walt Disney Co. $500,000 to settle charges they violated rules for airing commercials during children’s programs, federal regulators said Thursday.

The combined penalty is the largest ever imposed by the Federal Communications Commission for such violations.

Viacom’s ad programming aired on its Nickelodeon channel. International Family Entertainment, which is owned by Disney, was cited because of commercials broadcast on its ABC Family Channel.

FCC rules limit the commercials during certain children’s shows to 10½ minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. The limits apply to over-the-air broadcasters and cable operators for programming originally produced and aired for children age 12 and younger.

The rules also bar broadcasters from airing commercials that refer to or offer products that are related to the programs. For example, a cartoon program cannot air a commercial for the dolls of its characters. In that case, the entire program would be considered a commercial.

A Viacom investigation begun in 2003 determined the company broke the minutes-per-hour limits about 600 times and the product placement regulation some 145 times.

The audit by International Family Entertainment concluded that during a one-year period beginning in 2003, there were 31 half-hour episodes in which commercials for products associated with kids’ programs aired on the ABC Family Channel.

ABC Family spokeswoman Nicole Nichols said it was inadvertent and blamed problems with a computer monitoring system, which she said has since been fixed. Nickelodeon cited human error and computer system troubles with its commercial logging systems.


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