[ Text Version ]


June 9, 1997

(as prepared for delivery)


I want to welcome you all to Annenberg's second annual conference on children and television. Thank you, Kathleen, for inviting me, and above all, thank you all for the great work that you have done and are doing to improve the quality of children's TV.

As most of you have probably heard by now, I have asked President Clinton to begin the process of selecting my successor as chairman of the FCC. I intend to remain in my post until he has completed that process. It has been a high honor to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, but now it is high time for me to spend more time with my family. My children Adam, Nathaniel,and Sara are growing up fast, and, as I know this particular audience can well appreciate, I cannot afford to miss any more of their childhood.

It has been the thrill of my professional life to spend the last three and a half years at the center of the communications revolution. The work of the FCC has delivered huge benefits for the economy and our families.

Let me start by telling you briefly what we have already accomplished for kids --

Annenberg Reports

The reports released this morning by the Annenberg Center tell me two things: first, that clear and specific children's tv rules were sorely needed; and second, that there is still work to be done to assure that these rules achieve their goal of improving and increasing the amount of educational and informative programming for kids.

For example, your reports show that some broadcasters see the weekly three hour requirement as a ceiling, not a floor. This proves what we knew -- that quantifiable standards are necessary. I agree, however, that broadcasters should do much more.

Your studies show that while virtually all the programs aired for children on PBS were judged to be of high quality and educational, only a third of those aired on the "big three" networks fell into that same category.

This statistic about PBS is not surprising. It also makes clear to me that any plans for the airing of commercials on public television are bad plans. While I honor those who are searching for creative ways to keep public TV strong, the recent proposal to run commercials on PBS two nights a week would, in my opinion, fundamentally alter the non-commercial nature of this unique and vital broadcasting service. I would urge public broadcasters to reject this strategy.

On the other hand, it's obvious that significant, long term reliable funding should be provided to the PBS system. We should all work together towards this goal.

Your surveys also report that over 40% of 10-17 years olds said they would be "much or somewhat more" likely to watch a show identified as educational, compared to 21% who said they would "much or somewhat less" likely to watch. Also, nearly two-thirds of parents said they provide "a great deal" of supervision of their children's television viewing. These statistics show me that our trust in kids and parents was well-founded -- and that they need and will use wisely the information we have required in our rules to help them choose quality programming for their kids.

And your reports tell me that there is still work to be done. While it must be remembered that our definition of core programming doesn't go into effect until September, of the shows currently identified by commercial broadcasters as educational, your study found that fewer than one half could be considered educational by any reasonable benchmark. This statistic underscores that the designation of educational and informative programming by broadcasters must be accurate. This definitional issue is, I think, the crux of our rules, and by far the most difficult.

You report that even after our public information initiatives went into effect in January, although broadcasters began airing the informational on-screen icons, few newspapers began to identify programs designated as educational and informative for kids.

Your studies also indicate that in their discussion of specific programs, media critics and columnists erroneously tend to lump all "children" together -- forgetting that the term refers to a wide range of ages and needs. More than half of the parents surveyed said that their local newspaper was not very helpful in helping them make decisions about their children's viewing. Newspapers can do better than that for parents.

For you in this room are the true experts in this area. We at the FCC can only do so much. In our Children's TV rules, we have attempted to provide the tools to facilitate easy access to information regarding children's educational programming. But, it's really up to people like you and organizations like Annenberg to dramatically improve educational programming for kids.

I applaud Annenberg's State of Children's Programming Report and I encourage you to continue preparing, using scientific tools, a detailed report card rating all the kids shows and evaluating just how well the core programming offered by broadcasters really teaches our children. In fact, I would urge you to release such a report twice a year -- in September and in January. Last year, Vice President Gore predicted that by now the networks would be "fighting each other to earn the Annenberg Council's seal of approval." Today'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.

Children's TV

As a parent, former teacher and as the Chairman of the FCC, I'm completely convinced that popular culture is one of the greatest influences on the physical and psychological condition of children. The impact of popular culture on kids is, of course, at the core of my job description.

With the support of many of you in this room, we took an historic step last August when we replaced vague children's educational TV rules with a clear, enforceable 3-hour guideline. I see that Peggy Charren is here today. Without her, this never would have happened. I also see Jeff Chester and Kathy Montgomery of the Center for Media Education, who were also critical to our success. They and many others represent the next generation of advocates for kids. I thank you all for your hard work.

The 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. It proved that the Commission can ensure that trustees of the public airwaves truly serve the public interest, while being sensitive to and respectful of First Amendment values.

The FCC's children's television rules are designed not to force the production of

programming destined to be ignored but to encourage programming that, announced in advance, will be eagerly tuned in by children and welcomed by parents.

We all know that if educational programs are not also entertaining, then -- like cleaning their room or eating green vegetables -- kids will only watch them if parents tell them to.

In exchange for use of the public's airwaves, the Communications Act requires broadcasters to serve the "public interest, convenience and necessity." For many years, the Commission implemented this requirement with vague rules that were unfair and unenforceable -- unfair because vague rules don't give broadcasters notice of what's required of them, and unenforceable because relying on vague rules to punish speakers is an offense to the First Amendment.

As you all know only too well, the fight for clear guidelines wasn't easy. We got the educational TV rule only after a long struggle, Washington-style. There was heavy lobbying against these changes in the status quo. There were pressure tactics of many kinds against change. But the new rules protecting the public interest in the media passed because unprecedented numbers of people asked the FCC Commissioners to do the right thing.

President Clinton, Vice President Gore, a majority of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate wrote to endorse a three hour per week requirement. But what really pushed the debate in Washington was the more than 20,000 letters the Commission received from parents, teachers, children, social scientists, psychologists, and child advocacy groups all demanding better television for America's kids.

KidVid Specifics

Under the FCC's new children's television rules, a broadcast licensee that can

demonstrate that it has aired at least three hours per week of "core children's programming"

will have its license renewal application approved by the Commission staff. A broadcaster

can also qualify under these guidelines if it can show that it has aired a package of different

types of educational and informational programming that, while containing somewhat less

than three hours per week of core programming, demonstrates at least an equivalent level of

commitment to educating and informing children.

Licensees that do not satisfy this commitment will be referred to the full Commission

for consideration.

As of January, broadcasters have been required to identify their upcoming fall shows that are educational. Stations must also place, on a quarterly basis, programming reports in public FCC files. We have made the reports filed to date available over the Internet on our website (www@fcc.gov).

The programs themselves also must be identified as core programs, and commercial stations must also provide information identifying these programs to publishers of program guides along with an indication of the age group for which the program is intended.

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.

We define core children's educational 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. Bill Nye -- not biker mice. This is the most important evaluation, and this is where Annenberg's report cards are critical.

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.

Already, we have 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. This means, usually, Saturday mornings -- as your studies show, the heart of most core kids programming on the networks. As you well know, 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. We'd like your views on this topic.

We'd like your help in monitoring industry performance under the new rules over the next three years. The new definition of core programming and the processing guideline take effect September 1, 1997.

These rules should prove that modest but clear public interest guidelines can counter market disincentives.

The Kidvid Market: A New Profit Center

In fact, we believe, and today's reports suggest, that we have already jumpstarted the educational TV market. Our rules have already led to new partnerships and new companies working to create educational programming that kids will want to watch. Your panel presentations later today should shed more light on these developments.

We all know that children represent a large and developing market. There are 38.9 million children ages 2 to 11 who live in households with TV's, according to Nielsen media research. And they spend an average of 22 hours a week watching television--more than any other activity except sleeping. Your studies also reveal that over 40% of all kids between the ages of two and seventeen now have TVs in their bedrooms.

From all accounts, demand for quality children's programming is up. USA Today reported that "the FCC ruling started a feeding frenzy among producers and creators of potentially educational programming." Alice Cahn, head of children's programming at PBS said she's been swamped with inquiries about supplying educational programming to networks since the FCC ruling.

The trade press has been filled with stories quoting network executives discussing the unprecedented increase in pitches by major companies for educational shows and the number of people approaching them with ideas for educational programs -- including teachers, principals, and even housewives.

The New York Times reports that programmers have turned to leading producers of entertaining and educational shows to create shows with "PBS-caliber substance blended with Nickelodeon style."

We all know the educational strength of a show such as PBS's Sesame Street. And, it comes as no surprise that Nickelodeon has become the number one network in the children's market. Under the visionary pioneering of Geraldine Laybourne, who you honor today, Nickelodeon set out to identify what kids want to watch, tested ideas with children and kept in touch with their young audience -- creating a unique children's programming style. Nickelodeon's innovative Blues Clues, which is geared to preschoolers, premiered last Fall to record ratings and rave reviews, and demonstrates that a program loaded with educational content can also make learning fun for kids. Your studies also show that it has already been identified by parents as one of the top ten best educational shows for kids.

And now, bringing this experience to network programming in her new position as president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, where she also oversees all children's programming, Communications Daily reported that Geraldine last week told network affiliates that the process of assuring that the new kids shows were compliant with our rules "actually made the shows better."

Here are some examples of the exciting changes in the kids programming marketplace that I've been reading about:

Early this year, Children's Television Workshop announced its largest rollout ever, including shows for CBS's upcoming Fall schedule. Broadcasting & Cable reports that some projects in the works include The Ghostwriter Mysteries, an extension of the PBS Ghostwriter franchise which teaches reading and writing to 7-to-12-year olds; Problem #13, a comedy/adventure series incorporating math into the story line; and Jam Inn!, a live-action show developing music appreciation.

Scholastic, a respected name among educators, is developing educational shows like Clifford, an animated series based on the well-known book, and Spike and Satch, a show that introduces children to American culture and geography.

Program producers are also enlisting the expertise of educators in developing programs to meet the educational and informational needs of children. Broadcasting & Cable reports that Boats-A-Float is a collaborative production between Bank Street College of Education and Sachs Family Entertainment. This live action-strip is aimed at teaching problem-solving skills.

Popular game show programs tailored to kids' tastes are also headed our way, including a tot version of Wheel of Fortune 2000, in which participants solve word and language puzzles. Click! aims to test teens on history, math, and other academic subjects by linking questions to contemporary pop culture.

Saban Entertainment, creators of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, has launched its first-ever educational series, The Why Why Family, which explains scientific principles to young children . An example of a question explored on one episode was, "What happens to the food we eat?" And, this Fall, Saban will bring us The All New Captain Kangaroo. In fact, I was involved in announcing the selection of the new Captain.

I've also been pleased to see that the new rule has also generated a new market for consultants. The New York Times reports that Donna Mittroff, an educational advisor to WQED (makers of "Mr. Rogers"), started her own consulting business and has acquired commercial clients, like Saban. She summed up the shifting attitude toward educational TV -- commenting that when she first came to L.A. in the 1980s, she took the Ph.D off of her business card because it was a "turn-off in the TV community." Now she has put it back on her card and makes sure people know it.

Our kidvid rules have been the catalyst for many of these changes. Now, of course, the obligation shifts to parents and teachers to help build audiences for the new shows.

Now, it will be vitally important for PTAs, churches, and communities to advise parents on how to build audiences for truly high quality educational TV. The conditions for doing this were never in place before. Starting this Fall they will be. Educational TV will renew part of the broadcast industry's social compact.

A Look Back: Other Broadcast Initiatives

Our communications policy embraces both market values and family values I have had a simple, two point policy for broadcasting: a new social compact.

First, as a general rule, promote competition and deregulate.

Second, as a specific rule, where competition does not guarantee certain public benefits from the use of the public spectrum, then write fair, clear rules to get those guarantees.

While defining the minimum public good everyone should expect from the media, we should at the same time operate on the assumption that few commercial rules are necessary, except those that protect against overconcentration or interference.

Consistent with this assumption, we repealed the prime-time access rule, also known as the PTAR. We repealed the financial interest and syndication rules -- fin/syn. We repealed a rule preventing networks from owning broadcast stations in small markets. We repealed the secondary affiliation rule. We've recently initiated a rulemaking proceeding to look into ways to streamline the main studio and public file rules.

Congress decided and we voted to give DTV licenses to today's broadcasters in order to command them to carry the model of free, over-the-air TV into the digital age. In adopting a digital television standard, we resisted efforts to mandate a format that would benefit any single industry. Instead, we adopted a standard that would allow -- and already has allowed -- consumer electronics and computer companies to compete.

We adopted a flexible-use policy limited only by our obligation to preserve free TV and to ensure that TV serves the public interest. This will maximize broadcasters' ability to work with the computer industry and others to respond to changes in technologies and markets and to launch digital television in a manner that will most rapidly drive the purchase of digital TV receivers.

And we promoted competition in use of the airwaves when our brilliant engineers designed an allocation plan that lets us retrieve 60 megahertz now and 78 megahertz when analog is defunct.

Beginning next year, television manufacturers will be required to install V-chips to empower parents to control their children's access to violent programming. And, broadcasters have agreed to a voluntary rating system designed to work in conjunction with the V-chip so that parents will be able to screen out any program rated above a desired level.

Just last week several cable and broadcast networks announced plans to modify the ratings agreement to include on-screen information that specifies whether programs contain sex, violence or strong language. The FCC is ultimately charged with implementing this system and we will soon hold a public hearing to explore these issues.

More To Do

Despite all that we have accomplished, the Commission has more to do in the coming months.

Very soon, we will issue a Notice that will allow us to begin to consider the questions regarding the public interest obligations of broadcasters and other users of the spectrum that provide programming in an increasingly complex and digital marketplace.

The President will appoint a panel of broadcasters, public-interest advocates, and others to give him recommendations on what form public-interest obligations should take. The Vice President will chair the Commission.

The Commission must also address issues of broadcast ownership and attribution, the promotion of diversity and opportunity in the ownership of the media, and the great potential of free TV time for candidates to help solve the problem of campaign financing.

We must address the threat of hard liquor ads. I hope to soon release a Notice that will launch an open and public debate about the effects of liquor ads on kids. The President, the states, and dozens of members of Congress have asked for this inquiry.

We must address the difficult V-chip and ratings issues in a way that will truly give parents the power to choose what their kids watch in the analog TV present and the digital TV future.

The Commission must also reverse the trend in the decline of the amount of time broadcasters are devoting to public service announcements. The average time for network PSAs is a alarmingly low 5 seconds per hour -- down from 12 seconds just three years ago. The public needs PSAs because the public needs the messages they can deliver so effectively and so widely. Recently, Speaker Gingrich called on the networks to take more responsibility in the war against drugs, and General Colin Powell called on broadcasters to renew their commitment to meaningful PSAs.

There is clearly a bi-partisan consensus that the public's airwaves must be used in the public's interest.

And lastly, the Commission must monitor compliance with the children's educational TV rules to ensure that parents have quality educational tv to choose for their kids.

But again, you are the experts in this area. Judgments of quality are best made by the audience and the experts. Indeed, in addressing the First Amendment concerns of broadcasters in the kidvid proceeding, we made clear in our order that the FCC is not interested in influencing, or, even knowing, the content or viewpoint of any programming. We don't intend to unreasonably intrude on the programming decisions of broadcasters. We also readily admit that our staff lacks the ability and the expertise to judge the true quality and effectiveness of this programming.

You have this ability and expertise. And, as I've outlined, our rules should give you the tools. Annenberg's detailed report card should be issued twice a year -- in September and in January. It should use scientific tools to carefully evaluate just how well the core programming offered by broadcasters really teaches our children. The FCC, the broadcasters, the public, and our children would really benefit from such expert guidance.

While I have asked the President to find my successor, it is clear that the agenda of the FCC is overflowing. During the remainder of my time at the agency I am committed to the goals set forth in all of the decisions by this Commission -- promoting competition, promoting the public interest, and with your help, making our television sets more kid-friendly.

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