FCC chairman calls for better children's TV

June 29, 1994|By Marc Gunther | Marc Gunther,Knight-Ridder News Service

Critics who want television to provide more educational programs for children won support yesterday from the government's top broadcast regulator, who said "the business of educating kids should be part of the TV business."

Reed Hundt, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, opened the FCC's first hearing on children's programming in 10 years by urging the industry to serve children better.

"There's a battle going on for the hearts and minds of our children," Mr. Hundt said. "TV is the battleground. TV's power of persuasion brings with it a duty to teach."

But producers and network executives argued that their primary duty must be to entertain, rather than educate. And they warned that government rules requiring specific types of programs would violate their freedom of speech.

Paul La Camera, a Boston broadcaster speaking for the industry, said the Children's Television Act passed by Congress in 1990 already has led TV stations to put on more shows for kids. Many, he said, are "high quality and of great benefit to the children of this country."

The 1990 Children's Television Act is at the center of the renewed debate over children's TV in Washington. The act's vague definition of educational programming initially led some TV stations to classify such shows as "The Jetsons" and "Super Mario Brothers" as educational.

More recently, critics say, too many TV stations have relegated educational shows to the hours before 7 a.m. or pre-empted them frequently. Educational shows, they say, can't compete for air time with toy-based programs that are huge moneymakers.

Several groups, including the PTA and the National Education Association, have urged the FCC to require TV stations to air one hour a day of educational programming for children, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. They also want the commission to define more narrowly which shows can be classified as educational.

But veteran commissioner James Quello worried that the government may not have the authority to tell broadcasters what kinds of programming to run. "The more specific you get, the closer you get to violating First Amendment rights," he said.

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