SPEECH TO THE CENTER FOR MEDIA EDUCATION'S
PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE NEW CHILDREN'S TELEVISION ACT RULES
September 18, 1997
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Good morning. I want to welcome you all to the Center for Media Education's kickoff promoting awareness of the new Children's Television Act rules. As you all know, these rules took effect the first of this month, and as a result, some great new kids shows hit the airwaves this past weekend.
I also want to thank Kathryn and Jeff for inviting me, and of course thank them both for all their work on behalf of kids TV, and the great initiatives that CME is now spearheading in order to heighten both public and broadcaster awareness of the new rules.
And, of course, no gathering on kidvid would be complete without the presence of Peggy Charren -- I again thank her for her tireless efforts. Many others are responsible for making this day possible including those you have already heard from this morning -- Congressman Markey, Lois Jean White of the National PTA and Carolyn Breedlove of the National Education Association -- and I would like to personally thank them all as well.
Yesterday I was in a Senate hearing about digital television.
Some of the Senators were quite disturbed that broadcasters, having received the extended interest-free loan of a free airwaves license, were not going to use it very much, if at all, for so-called high definition formats. Instead the broadcasters propose to offer Americans five to six times as many TV channels. In Washington alone there might be 50 to 60 digital over the air channels. These could be chockablock with kids TV, free time for political debate, entertainment for minority communities, and the familiar popular shows of today. This multicasting vision of digital television could be the most powerful available competitor of cable and a wonderful addition to the panoply of media choices in a frighteningly concentrated industry.
Everyone should realize that broadcasters aren't now, weren't ever, and won't in the future broadcast much high definition television format, and it doesn't matter one bit. If I'm wrong it should be because the market reveals a demand for high definition picture quality and three thousand dollar TV screens and dens like movie theaters in the rich houses millions would like to live in. But that's not what cable thinks or what the satellite industry thinks. If they did, they'd be making plans to broadcast in high definition.
And if I'm wrong, well I've been wrong for several years because that's how long I've been saying this high definition thing is a case of the emperor has no clothes. My view, and the view taken unanimously by the FCC in April of this year, is that the government is not in the pixel business. Instead, it should be concerned about the product. We should not be talking about format, we should be talking about what is for kids. We should not be demanding 1,000 lines per picture; we should be demanding specific commitments to serve the public interest with the public's airwaves.
The main point here is that the giveaway of the spectrum can never be justified by the assertion that broadcasters are supposed to give us a certain picture quality. It can only be justified by a renewed, expanded, and meaningfully quantified public interest commitment and an expedited buildout of the wonderful new, procompetitive digital medium.
The next big issue in TV is the definition of the public interest in a digital age. This can only be done with your help.
A big reason the FCC was able to adopt clear, effective kidvid rules was the extraordinary role played by a large and diverse group of members of the public and public interest advocates. From trailblazers like Peggy and Newt Minow, to committed advocacy groups like CME, Children Now and the Children's Defense Fund, to organizations like the American Library Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to scholars like Dale Kunkel and James Hamilton, to the over 20,000 parents and other individuals that sent us letters and e-mails urging the Commission to take action -- they all played a critical role. I'd also like to thank the many FCC staff members who worked long hours to make these rules a reality. Thank you all.
I want to commend CME on its newest publication, an informative Field Guide to the CTA. This pamphlet should be in every home where kids watch TV. In addition, the web-based CTA Tool Kit that CME will launch today will be an invaluable resource for all of us as we try to gain familiarity with the new shows and attempt to hold broadcasters accountable for compliance with the new rules.
I particularly like the interactive report cards. These will allow us all to give feedback on our local station's educational and informational programming for children, evaluate individual shows, and rate the station's compliance with the rules. The report card is an excellent mechanism to encourage everyone to get involved in the monitoring and evaluating effort so that the stations can't get away with doing the "bare minimum" as some fear might be the case. This is exactly the sort of public/private oversight and enforcement that I envisioned when we crafted the new rules.
I also want to congratulate all of us -- from all accounts it looks like there will be more truly educational children's shows on TV this season than ever before. The fall schedule certainly seems to prove that broadcasters are taking us up on our invitation to reinvent children's educational TV.
Not only are our new kidvid rules making a difference as we have been told this morning -- they are also clearly making an impression.
Let's look at the kidvid clip I brought with me today -- here's what my friends over at the WB network's Animaniacs have to say about the new rules.
I am pretty sure I am the first Chairman of the FCC to be featured in a cartoon. Also, I feel compelled to clear up some glaring inaccuracies -- at least -- they were glaring to me. These are, of course, in addition to my own name and that of the agency I lead.
The clip starts with a panoramic tour through the majestic monuments of our nation's capital --and then we come to a looming Federal Television Agency. As you all know, the FCC headquarters building is hardly a monument.
Also, I am not nearly as good looking as the Sean Connery look-alike they depict. And, for the record, I do not have a southern accent.
And, our new children's rules are barely one page long -- that tome that Reef Blunt was banging around looked more like the tax code.
Finally, as for those media watchdogs -- well -- I'll let you all be the judge of those particular portrayals...
The clip is certainly a clever and irreverent lampoon of me, the agency, the public interest groups, and our new kidvid rules. Yes, I even enjoyed it. Parody is also one of the most sincere forms of flattery, or at least respect.
This cartoon show acknowledges indirectly that our rules have led to more choices for kids and families and created a whole new market for kids educational TV.
This television season, all these kids and families across the country will have the opportunity to tune into the new and exciting educational and informational shows designed specifically for kids. I for one am happy to report that my family has already found a new favorite in ABC's new Science Court.
In fact, last week on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Science Court creator Tom Snyder noted that had it not been for the new FCC three-hour requirement, he would not have had the opportunity or the incentive to put Science Court on the air. He said, "When I heard the rule had passed, I thought well -- it's worth spending a little extra money and time building a pilot . . . next year, it'll occur to more and more creative people to try to pull something off and they'll know that they'll have an opening in the network, I hope."
Let's look back briefly on what we have done.
Last August, we adopted clear and concrete rules to encourage the development and promotion of TV programming that would be both welcomed by parents and watched by children.
The rules that took effect this month give television broadcasters concrete guidance on what programs will satisfy the requirement that they air programs that specifically serve the educational and informational needs of children, and require broadcasters to air at least three hours of this programming every week.
A broadcast licensee that can demonstrate that it has aired at least three hours per week of "core children's programming" will now have its license renewal application approved by the Commission staff.
We define "core children's programming" as serving the educational and
informational needs of children ages 16 and under. To qualify, a program must be
specifically designed to meet the educational needs of children as opposed to general audience programming that has some incidental educational value.
The programming must air at times when kids actually watch TV (between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m), be at least 30 minutes in length and be a regularly scheduled weekly program.
Licensees that do not satisfy this commitment will be referred to the full Commission for consideration.
As of January, broadcasters have also been required to identify their upcoming fall shows that are educational. Families for the first time will know which programs broadcasters have designated as educational and informational and can decide for themselves whether these programs meet that description.
Stations must also place, on a quarterly basis, programming reports in public FCC files. We have made the completed reports filed to date available over the Internet on the FCC's website at www.fcc.gov under the link "Hot Topics."
We created our children's educational television website in order to inform parents and others about the new obligations imposed on broadcast stations in this country to provide educational and informational programming for children. I also hope the site will spark an ongoing dialogue between the public and TV stations about compliance with the new programming requirements.
The FCC website gives background information about these obligations as well as specific information about children's educational programming, including access to the stations' quarterly Children's Television Programming Reports.
For example, the site allows you to find out what educational programs are available in your area, including a description of the programs and a target age group for the shows. You can also find out the name of the children's television liaison at your local station. I urge you all to visit our web site and make use of the materials we will continue to provide there.
We have also set up a 1-888-CALL-FCC number to receive public feedback on our new kidvid rules. All comments received over the phone, by e-mail or in letters regarding a station's educational and informational programming will be made part of the station files at the FCC.
1997/1998 SEASON FOR KIDS
Now, let's look at what our new rules have spawned.
It's clear that children represent a huge and developing market. There are approximately 61 million children ages 2 to 17 in this country who could potentially reap the benefits of our new rules according to Nielson Media Research.
On any given Saturday morning at 10 am, there are 11 million kids age 2-11 watching TV.
On any given Saturday morning at 11 am there are 4 million teens watching TV.
The fall schedules now underway clearly demonstrate that our efforts and new rules have jumpstarted the educational TV market. In addition, we have inspired many firsts in the children's television industry, including new programming strategies, new and innovative partnerships, and the launching of new production companies working to create educational programming that kids will want to watch.
Here are some of these firsts as well as some of the new offerings I've noticed on the air for kids today.
On the networks, CBS has enlisted the skills of Children's Television Workshop to create a new version of The Ghostwriter Mysteries, an extension of the PBS Ghostwriter series which teaches reading and writing to 7-to-12-year olds.
I was also glad to hear that CBS has also brought back those great In the News segments.
ABC, with a little help from Disney and Gerry Laybourne, introduces an innovative two-hour block of kids programming. One Saturday Morning, the imaginary address of the building where kids shows are made features a host and studio audience. The new educational shows in the block include Pepper Ann and Recess.
Former science teacher and co-creator of Comedy Central's wacky Dr. Katz Professional Therapist, Tom Snyder's Science Court also brings an innovative science series into the lineup. The animated series throws scientific mysteries and comedy into a courtroom setting as theories are scrutinized by a judge whose voice is that of comedienne Paula Poundstone. Age range for the show according to Snyder is "6 to bright adult."
I have also heard, and I hope it is true, that ABC will also bring back those ever-popular Schoolhouse Rock vignettes. ( I'm just a bill on Capitol Hill...)
And, the WB network has introduced Umptee-3 TV, a new educational series produced by Norman Lear about a pirate TV station that explores the world we live in.
PBS seems to have found another hit by importing Wimzie's House, the top-rated kids show in Canada.
And, there is also some great new material from the syndicators.
Click!, from Merv Griffin, tests teens on history, math, and other academic subjects by linking questions to contemporary pop culture.
Popular Mechanics for Kids features a cast of young reporters exploring how various things are constructed and operated.
Finally, Saban Entertainment, creators of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, has now brought us more enriching fare with the return of the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit and Grandfather Clock in The All New Captain Kangaroo.
Our kidvid rules were undeniably the catalyst for many of these exciting changes. Now, of course, the obligation shifts to parents and teachers to help build audiences for the new shows. It will be vitally important for PTAs, churches, and communities to advise parents on how to build audiences for truly high quality educational TV.
Let's all agree on this point -- we have come a long way, but we can't afford to be passive potatoes now. We all know that some broadcasters and networks may try to abuse the discretion that they insisted we give them when we formulated our rules. There is still a risk that some may air shows that don't meet our definition of core educational programming.
Some critics have already complained, some before the shows even hit the air, that stations are doing the "bare minimum" to comply with the new rules. However, as Peggy told the New York Times last week, "some shows will be good, some bad. . . . the first year of an effort to clean up rivers doesn't make them free of all pollution." This television season is only the beginning.
So, now that the rules are in effect, our new challenge in my view is this -- parents and kids advocacy groups and educators have to take responsibility to critique these shows. Do teachers and parents think that they educate kids? We all need to tell the stations which shows get an A and which ones get Cs, Ds, and Fs.
This is where efforts like CME's interactive report cards will be critical. I also am encouraged by Annenberg's annual Children's Programming Report and I hope others also prepare, using scientific tools, detailed report cards rating all the kids shows and evaluating just how well the core programming offered by broadcasters really teaches our children.
Annenberg's studies reveal that most local broadcasters do look to accreditation from children's advocacy groups or academics as proof that a program meets FCC requirements.
In addition, there are other things that should be done to help make sure these new rules continue to be a success. Since this was Emmy week out in Hollywood, why not award an Emmy for outstanding children's educational TV?
Or, perhaps the FCC ought to create an advisory committee composed of outside experts to evaluate the shows and report to the FCC on them. The committee could also suggest any changes to the rules if necessary. For example, it could address the issue of tradeability -- that is -- should broadcasters be allowed to trade their obligations amongst themselves?
Let's all remember, we are in new territory here. Our kidvid order was a profoundly significant turning point in Commission history. It was the first time that the agency adopted clear and concrete rules to enforce the statutory requirement that broadcasters serve the public interest. And, both this Commission and, assuming he is confirmed, Bill Kennard's new Commission are going to take oversight responsibilities here very seriously.
In addition to the processing guidelines, we will also monitor the industry's programming performance based on the licensee's annual programming reports over the next three years. We will then conduct a review to assess their compliance at the end of this period. FCC staff will also conduct selected individual station audits to assess station compliance.
Also, we have already been approached by broadcasters and each of the networks regarding the regularly scheduled requirement. They have requested the flexibility to preempt, on occasion, their children's programming schedule for live sporting or other special events and still have these programs qualify as core programming.
In our kidvid order, we stated that it would be left to the staff to determine, with guidance from the Commission as necessary, what level of preemption is allowable. We all realize that it is crucial that these programs be regularly scheduled -- so they can build audiences, are easily located by viewers, and so that the continuing educational message is not lost in the shuffle. In some cases, some preemption is probably acceptable, but in general preemption will undermine our kidvid rules.
In July, the Mass Media Bureau concluded that the networks' proposals for promoting and rescheduling preempted programming for the 1997/98 season would not run afoul of the new children's television rules, in light of the networks' substantial commitment to rescheduling the shows and a host of promotional activities designed to facilitate easy access to educational programming.
Early next spring, however, the Bureau will report to the full Commission about the effect of preemption on core children's programming, and will make recommendations regarding future preemption policies.
The lesson from all this? We all must inform ourselves as to what's going on and most of all -- stay involved. There has to be a transfer of responsibility from the government to the people. The rules are for the people -- they should be enforced by the people.
As our new kidvid rules and the exciting new kids shows premiering this season so aptly remind us, this is the dawning of civilization for kids television. Let's make sure we make it great.