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Bush Allows Ad-Limit Bill to Become Law Without Signature

October 18, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ There will be fewer commercials on children’s television shows under a new law that President Bush said he does not especially like, but nonetheless declined to block.

Bush said Wednesday that he wholeheartedly backs the goals of the ″Children’s Television Act of 1990,″ but that he objects to provisions that he believes infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech.

Thus, he said, he would not sign the bill, but neither would he veto it, allowing it to become law today without his signature.

The new rules will limit commercials on children’s television shows to 10 minutes for each hour of children’s programming on weekends, and 12 minutes an hour on weekdays.

Congressional critics said some stations now allow 13 minutes to 17 minutes of advertising during each hour of children’s programming.

The president said he had constitutional questions about the bill’s requirement that stations provide educational programming as well as the limits on commercials.

″This bill is intended to increase the amount and quality of children’s television programming and to diminish the commercialization of programming for children,″ he said in a statement.

But while lauding the intent, he said he regretted that Congress ″has chosen inappropriate means″ of attaining admirable goals.

A children’s advocacy group criticized Bush’s refusal to sign the bill. Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television, noted his previous pledges to boost American education.

″One would have thought that the ‘education president’ would embrace a measure that gives the TV industry an incentive to become a partner in the education of this nation’s young people,″ Charren said from her organization’s Cambridge, Mass., headquarters.

Bush said he particularly disliked applying commercial restrictions to cable stations, which he views as ″analagous to the print media under the First Amendment.″

Another section requires that applicants for TV station licenses provide educational programming specifically designed for children.

The Justice Department had recommended that the president veto any bill containing that provision as an unconstitutional intrusion into program content.

Although Bush rejected the recommendation, he said in his statement Wednesday, ″The First Amendment ... does not contemplate that government will dictate the quality or quantity of what Americans should hear - rather it leaves this to be decided by free media responding to the free choices of individual consumers.″

He said a constitutional challenge to the law might force the Supreme Court to reconsider its current upholding of content-based regulations on broadcast license holders.

Further, Bush said, the limits on commercials ″cannot reasonably be expected to advance their intended purpose.″

Because children’s TV is financed by advertising, he said, the quality of programming could actually be diminished by curtailment of advertising.

The House and Senate last month approved the bill without dissent.

It effectively reverses President Reagan’s 1984 deregulation of the commercial content of children’s TV programming. Reagan vetoed congressional legislation similar to the bill that Bush allowed to become law.

Before the deregulation, broadcasters followed industry guidelines allowing 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 9 1/2 minutes per hour on weekend days.

The new rules require the Federal Communications Commission - in renewing the licenses of television stations - to weigh how well broadcasters are serving the educational and informational needs of children.

They also require the FCC to complete an inquiry into commercialization guidelines for children’s television. This provision is targeted at programs featuring toy characters brought to life.

The legislation sets up a federally funded National Endowment for Children’s Educational Television to subsidize the production of children’s programming. The endowment will receive $2 million in 1991 and $4 million the next year.

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