The FCC voted 4-0 to adopt new rules requiring broadcast stations to air a minimum of three hours of children’s educational programming weekly or risk not having their licenses renewed.
The guidelines the FCC adopted were devised by industry executives, citizen advocate groups, television producers and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the July 29 Children’s Television Summit held at the White House. The new rules strengthen the principles originally established six years ago.
The August 8 announcement ended a protracted internal FCC squabble over whether mandating a specific number of hours for children’s programming was a violation of stations’ First Amendment rights.
The FCC ruling ‘demonstrates our willingness to listen to the American people and, at their request, to try to improve the impact of broadcast television on our country,’ says FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. ‘Our new . . . rule is a simple, straightforward, practical way to create a world in which the creative community can invent a whole new art form: the art of teaching children with television.’
Under the new guidelines, broadcasters must air three hours of regularly scheduled half-hour weekly programs (‘core programming’) specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children 16 and younger as part of a station’s requirement for license renewal. The core programming must be aired between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Stations must identify core programming at the time it is aired and in information provided to publishers of television program guides.
The new guidelines go into effect September 1997, but stations must begin to identify educational programming in TV listings in January.
Broadcasters could also satisfy the requirement by airing a combination of specials, public-service announcements, 15-minute after-school shows or regularly scheduled bi-monthly or monthly specials that would be the equivalent of airing three hours of weekly programming.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Broadcasters, the average station currently airs four hours of educational programming a week.
The new agreement calls for more stringent definitions of educational programming, specifically, that the original intent of the program is to serve the educational and informational needs of kids. In the past, some broadcasters have claimed that programs such as The Jetsons or The Flintstones have educational merit.
The three-hour rule applies only to over-the-air broadcasters and not to cable networks.
Commissioner James Quello, who had long-opposed an inflexible three-hour mandate, remains concerned that the new guidelines may set a precedent for future First Amendment tinkering. ‘While we have taken a step forward in eliminating an obstructive FCC impasse with this item, it could open the door for future objectionable First Amendment incursions against broadcast speech,’ he says.
The July 29 Children’s Television Summit was attended by over 50 leaders and advocates of the broadcast industry, including Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education; Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children’s Television; and Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Also in attendance were Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper.
Earlier this year, President Clinton reached an agreement with the entertainment industry to develop a television ratings system, and called for the installation of V-chips in all new televisions so parents can block out what they deem as violent or adult programming.