July 11, 1996

Statement of Commissioner Susan Ness
on the Children's Television Programming Order

I have been surprised and disappointed by the sudden flurry of public dissension regarding our pending proceeding on children's television. A successful resolution of this issue is within our grasp, and it would be a tragedy were it to slip away.

A few weeks ago, we finally reached consensus. After many months of debate, all four Commissioners had agreed to support a processing guideline based on three hours of "core" educational and informational programming. Everyone agreed that the plan should incorporate a measure of flexibility, such that somewhat less than three hours of core programming would be permissible provided that significant non-core efforts supplemented the core programming in a manner that reflected at least a comparable level of commitment to meeting the educational and informational needs of children. This approach combined the virtues of certainty and flexibility.

Almost two weeks ago, the Mass Media Bureau circulated a draft order that faithfully embodied this approach. It was consistent with the approach I have advocated for over a year -- and which childrens' programming advocates and broadcasters alike have told me they support. I promptly voted my approval of the order.

Other Commissioners had reservations about the draft order and, ten days ago, their staffs committed to provide written comments identifying the specific changes they believe should be made in the draft. To this day, we have received no such edits. Instead, we read press statements that the order is "too inflexible," "too regulatory," and worse. Comments from some outside parties have been well beyond the pale of reasonable debate -- as inaccurate as they are overheated.

As the rhetoric escalates, the prospects for constructive discussion diminish.

Our agency is working day and night to implement the Telecom Act. We cannot afford to be diverted by the new roadblock in this lane of the information highway.

If my colleagues would lower their voices, and return to good faith discussions, I believe we can resolve this issue in a manner that works for children and families, for broadcasters, and for the Commission. Otherwise, perhaps we should all turn our full attention to interconnection and other Telecom Act issues -- and as for children's broadcasting, we can await the results of the President's summit with broadcast executives later this month.

- FCC -