Congress, seeking to improve children’s television, Wednesday approved landmark legislation to limit the amount of advertising on children’s programs and spur broadcasters to present more shows with educational value for youngsters.
The White House signaled, however, that President Reagan may veto the measure on grounds that it would interfere with the free speech of broadcasters.
The bill sailed through the Senate on a voice vote after clearing the House last June on a 328-78 roll call. The so-called “kid-vid” bill drew strong bipartisan backing as well as the support of the television industry.
The measure would limit commercials on children’s TV shows to 10.5 minutes an hour on weekends and 12 minutes an hour on weekdays, reimposing time limits once enforced by the Federal Communications Commission but abandoned in 1984 as part of its deregulation of the airwaves.
The advertising controls would go into effect in 1990, and the bill gives the FCC the authority to change them after Jan. 1, 1993.
Under the legislation, regarded as Congress’ most serious effort to regulate the highly profitable field of children’s television, broadcasters would also be required to air programs that would meet the educational needs of youngsters or risk losing their licenses.
Despite the broad support for the compromise legislation, the White House reaffirmed a statement issued last June that called the bill “inappropriate, ill advised and inimical to the spirit of the First Amendment,” which protects freedom of speech. The Justice Department has recommended that Reagan veto the bill.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a co-author of the legislation, termed the final congressional action “a victory for America’s children” and the most important measure dealing with children’s television in a generation.
“First, it will help stem the ‘creeping commercialism’ presently plaguing children’s television,” Markey said in a statement. “This legislation will challenge broadcasters to educate children creatively rather than to exploit children commercially.”
Policing Left to FCC
The House bill, which was accepted by the Senate, was a bipartisan compromise that dropped a proposal to ban programs that feature toys manufactured by the programs’ sponsors. It would provide that a station “serve the educational and informational needs of children” in its overall programming and would require the FCC to police compliance with this standard when licenses come up for renewal every five years.
Sen. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.), who sponsored a stronger bill that would have explicitly required programming especially designed for children, said that the measure finally passed is a step in the right direction but that it leaves much to be desired.
“Children benefit most from programs specifically tailored to their limited information-processing capabilities, but unfortunately there is little economic incentive for broadcasters to provide such content,” Wirth said.
Under the bill as passed, he added, broadcasters could contend that family comedies designed for a general audience are meeting their obligations to children, too.
Increase in Commercials
Advocates of the legislation said that the FCC’s deregulation philosophy is harming children. Since the removal of time limits on TV commercials in 1984, they said, stations have increased the amount of ads on children’s shows.
Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television, which has been lobbying to get limits on advertising on children’s shows, cheered the passage of the bill, saying: “What this bill does is create a new climate in broadcasting and signal a sea change in the way broadcasters and the FCC will view children’s programming.”
The National Assn. of Broadcasters said that its members did not oppose the bill because they share Congress’ concern over the quality of television shows aimed at children.
“In a small way, it does legislate content, and that would always be a concern of ours; because it does it in such a small way, we thought it was worth it to live with this bill,” NAB spokesman Susan Kraus said.