Statement of
Commissioner Susan Ness
En Banc Hearing on Children's Television

Re: Policies and Rules Concerning Children's Television Programming, MM Docket No. 93-48

As a parent, as a concerned citizen, and as a Commissioner, I welcome this opportunity to engage the industry and the experts in a dialogue on an issue of great importance to me -- how broadcast licensees can best serve the educational and informational needs of children. In the final analysis, we are judged as a Nation by the education and social well-being of our youth.

Much of today will be spent looking at whether broadcasters have fulfilled their responsibilities under the Children's Television Act. Some panelists may feel the Commission is "grading" how well they have met their programming obligations. I prefer to view these proceedings as a "back-to-school night" rather than a "report card." It is an opportunity to explore what we can do together as a community to increase and enhance the program offerings specifically designed for children.

There is no doubt that television plays a key role in shaping young minds. By the time the average five-year old enters the classroom, he or she has viewed more than 4,000 hours of television. The broadcaster is thus presented with both a responsibility and an opportunity. The responsibility is to serve the special needs of the young members of the viewing audience. The opportunity is to make a real difference in the way children view themselves and their world.

Some may argue that the availability of alternatives to over-the-air broadcast, such as cable television, videocasettes, and educational computer programming, has diminished the "public interest" obligation of the broadcaster. I think not. Free, over- the-air television is unique in reaching 99% of American families. In contrast, cable has penetrated only 60% of U.S. households. More significantly, less than half of the families with incomes of $15,000 or below subscribe to cable. Free, over-the-air television, therefore, is the only effective way to deliver quality educational programming to all our children, particularly those who may be most in need.

When industry leaders visit my office, I routinely ask them to describe what their companies are doing in support of children's television. Many genuinely are excited by the innovative programs in production. Others defensively point fingers at those further up the "programming food-chain" to justify their own lack of commitment. Funding, competition, and audience share are the main culprits, they say. We need less finger pointing and more action.

How can we be a catalyst for production of quality children's programming? I hope to learn more today about a variety of financial incentives, such as tax certificates, or public/private programming partnerships to fund productions. For example, "Bill Nye, Science Guy" was produced by KCTS-TV, a public broadcasting station in Seattle, but it is syndicated by Buena Vista Television, aired weekly by PBS, and partially funded by the National Science Foundation. I am interested in hearing about other special efforts by licensees to produce or support children's programming that is broadcast by other stations in the market. This is another way to meet the Congressional mandate.

Twenty years ago, when the Commission first looked at children's television, Commissioner Benjamin Hooks observed, "We cannot legislate creativity, good taste or the product marketplace, but we can [ensure] that broadcasters make a concerted effort to beneficially serve the needs of the public, including that segment too young to petition or protect itself." That statement is still valid today.

In her provocative book, The Measure of Our Success, Marion Wright Edelman laments:

"All our children are affected by the absence of enough heroines and heroes in public and daily life, as the standard for success for too many Americans has become personal greed rather than common good, and as it has become enough to just get by rather than do one's best."

That is our challenge today. Let us work together -- broadcaster, producer, programmer, advertiser, consumer, and Commission -- as a community to embrace the spirit of the Children's Television Act.