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September 14, 2000

Statement of
Commissioner Gloria Tristani

Re: In the Matter of Children's Television Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters, MM Docket No. 99-360.

I am pleased to support this item for the most part, but will be dissenting in part on one narrow issue. As I have said before, the public interest standard should protect and enrich our children. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is a first step towards fulfilling our duty to ensure that quality educational and informational programming is available to children in the digital era.

It also asks important questions about whether we are sufficiently protecting our children from age inappropriate materials in product promotions that run during children's programming. These questions follow on the heels of this week's Federal Trade Commission Report which found, among other things, that age inappropriate violent movies are deliberately marketed during television shows watched by children. For example, and I cite from that report: "Seven of the nine PG-13 rated films that were targeted to children 11 and younger were advertised on afternoon and Saturday morning cartoon programs."

The questions also follow the multiple inquiries, complaints and concerns that we routinely receive from the American public concerning age inappropriate product promotions during times when children are likely to be watching. A case in point is a copy of an e-mail Mr. Charles Van Genderen of Helena, MT, sent to the Discovery Channel and forwarded to us, which reads as follows:

I am writing to express my concern over a couple of commercials which my children observed. This morning my two daughters ages 7 & 9 and I were watching a show on sharks, 8-9 a.m. MST on the Discovery channel (actually Discovery kids was listed on the screen). During this show, two commercials came on regarding issues which I feel are inappropriate for children to see. The first was for Bloussant, an alleged breast enhancement pill and the second was for energex, an alleged sexual potency stimulant.

Our society sends so many messages to girls that they have to be perfect and sexually attractive. These commercials do nothing to help. With eating disorders, the pressure to develop, etc. on children all the time, please rearrange your programming so that a young child does not have to be introduced to this type of commercial during what is clearly a children's program.

I am by no means a moral or religious zealot but am concerned that my daughters are introduced to enough negative messages. I would have thought the Discovery channel to have better sense than that - especially on a Sunday Morning. Do I need a v-chip for this too? Please respond to my complaint with how this will be handled in the future and feel free to contact me if you need further information.

The question in this notice, whether such product promotions should be rated, so a V-Chip can be used, and the answer, I hope, may give Mr. Van Genderen and many other parents better means to protect their children.

Despite these continued concerns, the new digital era promises many exciting possibilities that will set an abundance of information and choice before our children. The ability to blend broadcast programs with consumer products through point and click technology will both empower our children and expose them to risks we can only imagine. If we are to improve on our past record, it is imperative that the obligations of broadcasters in the digital era be identified, discussed and openly debated.

Today's adoption of this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sets us on the right course and explores the public interest obligations of broadcasters to our children. On one matter, however, I regret that my fellow Commissioners would not join me in asking the following questions: (1) Whether, in light of the additional program capacity made available by digital technology, a three-hour guideline is sufficient, or whether the guideline should be increased to ensure an adequate supply of educational and informational programming for children? and (2) If we were to require broadcasters to provide more than a total of three hours per week of core programming, could broadcasters choose to air this programming on a single program stream or should we require that it be distributed among more than one or all of the broadcaster's program streams? On the failure to ask these questions, I respectfully dissent.

All in all, the opportunity to increase the availability of educational and informational programming and to limit the availability of age inappropriate content during children's programming is squarely before us. Some here would say the last chapter on broadcaster obligations to children was written during the analog era. I believe the story is not finished. There is no higher obligation and no greater task. I urge everyone to examine our obligations and to write the chapter that ensures our children are the winners in the new digital era.