Special Report ­ NATPE: New children’s programming rules for broadcasters

January 1, 1997


The Children’s Television Act of 1990 (CTA) was adopted with the goal of increasing the amount of educational and informational children’s programming aired by broadcasters. The CTA and the Federal Communications Commission’s initial rules implementing that statute required stations to air some amount of standard-length educational and informational programming ‘specifically designed’ for children 16 years of age and under. The FCC defined educational and informational programming as ‘programming that furthers the positive development of children 16 years of age and under in any respect, including the child’s intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs.’

But the FCC concedes that its initial regulations enforcing the CTA have failed to achieve the desired outcome. Some broadcasters still offer ‘very little regularly scheduled standard-length programming specifically designed to educate and inform children. Second, some broadcasters are claiming to have satisfied their statutory obligations with shows that, by any reasonable benchmark, cannot be said to be ‘specifically designed’ to educate and inform children.’ Finally, says the FCC, parents do not have enough information about educational and informational shows to encourage their children to watch these programs and to help ensure that broadcasters comply with the CTA.


Announced Aug. 8, 1996, the new rules aim to tighten the FCC’s policies implementing the CTA.

Core programming

The rules clarify what qualifies as programming ‘specifically designed’ to educate and inform children, or ‘core programming.’

-Educating and informing children must be a ‘significant purpose’ of a core program.

-A show must be regularly scheduled and must run at least once a week.

-A show must be at least 30 minutes long.

-A show must air between 7 a.m and 10 p.m.

Identification of core programming

-Core programs must be identified at the start of the show.

-Broadcasters must supply information specifying their core programs and the target audiences of the shows to publishers of program guides.

-Stations must list their core programs in their children’s programming reports kept in their public inspection files.


-Broadcasters must complete children’s programming reports on a quarterly basis. For the next three years, they must submit these reports once a year to the FCC.

-Reports must explain how shows qualify as core programs.

-Reports must name a liaison for children’s programming at the station and must provide information about how to contact that person.

-Broadcasters must publicize the existence and location of these reports.

-These reports will be reviewed by the FCC at the end of the three-year period. In the meantime, the Commission will audit individual stations to monitor their compliance.

Processing guidelines

-Broadcasters that air at least three hours a week of core programming, averaged over a six-month period, will qualify for staff-level license renewal.

-If they fall short of the three-hour standard, stations will be eligible for staff-level license renewal if they offer specials, public-service announcements and other kinds of shows equivalent to airing three hours a week of core programming.

-Applications that do not demonstrate either of the above will be referred to the full commission for review, and these stations will have the opportunity to demonstrate their compliance in other ways.


-Beginning Jan. 2, 1997, broadcasters must identify educational and informational shows on air, in listings provided to program guide publishers and in their reports, and must comply with the reporting requirements.

-Stations have until Sept. 1 to comply with the definition of core programming and the three-hour standard.

Source: Report and Order, In the Matter of Policies and Rules Concerning Children’s Television Programming, Revision of Programming Policies for Television Broadcast Stations, MM Docket No. 93-48, 11 FCC Rcd 10660 (1996)

About The Author


Brand Menu