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Children’s TV Bill Passes, But Reagan Veto Likely

October 20, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some television stations would have to reduce advertising and refocus their children’s programming efforts under a bill approved by Congress and hailed as ″a victory for America’s children.″

The measure won final passage on a voice vote in the Senate on Wednesday, but the Reagan administration opposes it and the Justice Department recommends that he veto it on constitutional grounds.

The measure would limit advertising time during children’s shows and require TV stations to provide informative programming for children as a condition of license renewal.

Supporters say the legislation is the most important statement by Congress on children’s television in a generation.

″This legislation will challenge broadcasters to educate children creatively rather than to exploit children commercially,″ said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., a co-author of the measure.

Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television, called passage of the bill ″a landmark victory for parents and children.″

″What this bill does is create a new climate in broadcasting and signals a sea change in the way broadcasters and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) will view children’s programming,″ said Charren, whose Cambridge, Mass.-based group has lobbied for 20 years to set into law advertising limits for children’s shows.

But the administration opposes the bill as ″inimical to the spirit of the First Amendment″ because it injects the government into programming and advertising decisions of TV stations. The Justice Department recommended a veto on constitutional grounds following House passage, 328-78, in June.

The legislation would break from the course of the Reagan administration’s efforts to deregulate the broadcast industry. The FCC lifted its children’s TV commercial limits four years ago.

FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick said the legislation was ″both unnecessary and ill-advised,″ particularly because the FCC has been considering taking action related to the commercialization of children’s television.

The FCC abandoned its advertising limits on the theory that commercial content during children’s shows would be best regulated by the open marketplace.

But children’s TV advocates said the FCC’s philosophy of deregulation was harming children. They said that since the limits were dropped in 1984, stations have increased advertising during children’s shows and the quality of children’s programming has deteriorated as toy manufacturers have become heavily involved in developing shows based on their products.

Markey said reimposing advertising limits ″will help stem the creeping commercialism presently plaguing children’s television.″

Stations would be allowed no more than 10 1/2 minutes per hour of advertising in kids’ shows on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. Stations would have until Jan. 1, 1990, to comply with the advertising limits. The FCC would be authorized to modify the time standards after Jan. 1, 1993.

The measure also would require stations to ″serve the educational and informational needs of children″ in overall programming and would require the FCC to evaluate those efforts every five years when a station applies for renewal of its license.

The National Association of Broadcasters did not oppose the bill ″because we share the interests of Congress in assuring the provision of programs that serve the needs of the child audience,″ according to spokeswoman Susan Kraus.

″In a small way it does legislate content and that would always be a concern of ours, but because it does it in such a small way we thought it was worth it to live with this bill,″ she said.

Martin Franks, a CBS vice president, said, ″Clearly it’s going to require us to rethink some of the ways we’ve done our business but it’s a compromise we were a part of and more than willing to accept.″

″It will result in some cutbacks in advertising,″ he added, but declined to estimate how much.

The compromise legislation was stripped of proposals that would prohibit programs that feature toy manufacturers’ products, referred to by critics as ″program-length commercials.″

Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who favored such an approach, said the measure that was passed begins to address the issue but doesn’t go far enough.

His chief complaint is that it does not explicitly require programming specifically designed for children. Rather, the bill simply says children’s interests must be served through broadcasters’ ″overall programming efforts.″

Broadcasters ″certainly could argue that family-oriented shows such as ‘The Cosby Show’ are of benefit to children and such programming efforts would satisfy the requirements of this legislation,″ he said.

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