April 5, 1995
Re: Policies and Rules Concerning Children's Television
(MM Docket No. 93-48)
The central goal established by Congress in the Children's Television Act is for television broadcasters to air programming that serves the educational and informational needs of our nation's children.
Our task is to implement better that legislative directive. My preference would have been for broadcasters voluntarily to have met the needs of the children in their audience. Some dedicated broadcasters are working diligently toward that end. But from the record developed in response to our Notice of Inquiry and the testimony at our en banc hearing, I have concluded that the programming mandate of the Act generally is not being fulfilled.
As we take our next steps to implement the Act, it is important to maintain a steady focus on what it is we are trying to accomplish. My own perspective is that we should emphasize quality of programming -- programming that children will want to watch and that responsible parents will want their children to watch. We need to find better ways to promote the widespread availability of programming that educates, enlightens, entertains, excites, and ennobles -- all at the same time.
I see three major impediments to increasing the availability of quality children's programming: the production cost of such programming, the difficulty of integrating it with other elements of the program schedule, and the need to promote it so that parents and children know when to tune in. In this Notice we seek comment on creative proposals to encourage broadcasters to overcome these hurdles.
I hope that broadcasters will find new ways of funding programming that serves educational and informational needs. The Wisconsin State Broadcasters Association, for example, has established a foundation that funds the production of quality programming that is available to its members on a non-exclusive basis at a nominal cost. Not surprisingly, a large number of broadcasters in the state choose to air this programming. Bill Nye, The Science Guy, has teamed up with the National Science Foundation, public television, and Disney to produce excellent programs that are aired on both commercial and public TV. A constructive dialogue may yield useful lessons on other workable models.
Scheduling is also important. The record clearly demonstrates that regularly scheduled programs attract larger audiences. It is also important that the programming fit with the surrounding schedule; I, for one, am not enthusiastic about sandwiching children's programming in between tabloid-style talk shows. One idea suggested in the Notice, and supported by provisions in the Act, is for one or more stations in a market to air substantial amounts of children's programming with support from other stations in the market. Other approaches to scheduling issues also need to be explored. Promotion is another important consideration. Programming that is designed to educate and inform cannot serve its purpose if parents and children don't know it is there. A requirement that broadcasters identify what they believe to be their educational and informational programs to newspapers and other TV program guides may be a necessary and minimally burdensome way to ensure that the public is informed.
Over the past months I have been encouraging broadcasters and others to tender creative, market-friendly approaches for improving compliance with the Children's Television Act. We have heard some good ideas, but we have a long way to go.
This Notice presents several specific proposals, and I look forward to studying the comments they engender. In particular, I am interested in exploring the use of processing guidelines as a vehicle for encouraging increased compliance. Broadcasters are entitled to know what we expect of them, and a "safe harbor" approach will provide a "constitutionally friendly" measure of certainty while still allowing the flexibility to accommodate broadcasters who choose to emphasize quality and community service. It is not our role to prescribe content or to force broadcasters into a common mold.
I look forward to a dialogue involving all interested parties. The means to meet our goals must be developed and implemented through cooperative efforts of broadcasters, program creators, advertisers, parents, educators, newspaper publishers, and government officials.
I care about the programs children watch. Broadcasters have a special obligation to serve the public interest. More than one-third of TV households do not subscribe to cable, and many children who do not have access to cable or satellite dishes live in low-income homes. They deserve our help.
We need to work together to address what is, fundamentally, a common objective. We need to think these ideas through, and we need to make genuine progress in the near-term.