For children: TV worth watching

January 11, 1993

As the New Year began, some of America's pre-school children got a nifty gift -- six hours of commercial-free programming scheduled to run each weekday. So now, if children live in a household with cable TV wired to systems that carry the Learning Channel and if an adult makes sure the set is tuned to that channel, these youngsters will be spared the endless commercials (12 minutes per hour on weekdays) and two dozen or so acts of violence per hour that characterize most television programming for children.

"Ready to Learn," the three-hour package of music, storytelling and other wholesome and educational fare, is aired twice daily. Its biggest fault is that it reaches only a tiny share of an audience that needs much more programming of this nature.

The program is one example of increased attention to quality television for children since the passage of the Children's Television Act of 1990. That law limits the number of commercials during children's programs and, for commercial stations, requires the Federal Communications Commission to consider whether stations have served "the educational and informational needs of children" when granting license renewals. Just how vague that requirement is became clear last fall when the Washington-based Center for Media Education gathered examples of the programs stations cited to comply with the law. One station in Ohio pointed to an episode of "Donohue" entitled, "Teen-age Strippers and their Liberal Moms."

Not even a well-intentioned law can guarantee good results. The issue needs sustained public attention. To promote accountability from broadcasters, advocates for better children's TV are recommending that broad-based groups be set up to monitor programming aimed at kids. With the creation of Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV last fall, this state was the first to take up the challenge.

Spearheaded by Advocates for Children and Youth and Ready at Five, the local coalition comprises representatives from community groups ranging from PTAs and scouting organizations to the Mental Health Association of Maryland, Associated Catholic Charities and ecumenical church groups. The aim is to work with both television stations and parents -- who often don't know which programs are worthwhile and which aren't. With a report card for local stations, a guide to children's programming and other outreach efforts the campaign can make a big difference in many Maryland households.

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