Accusing the television industry of evading the intent of congressional legislation, a key lawmaker urged the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to require broadcasters to air at least three hours a week of educational programming for children.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), ranking minority member of the Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and finance, said the TV industry's response to congressional legislation designed to improve children's programming has been "pathetic." Children's television, he said, is "the video equivalent of Twinkies: Kids like it, but it lacks any intellectual nutritional benefit."
Markey, who was joined at a Capitol press conference by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), called on the FCC to adopt new rules, now being considered by the agency, that would mandate a minimum level of educational programming and make it more difficult for broadcasters to continue such practices as counting reruns of "The Flintstones" or "The Jetsons" cartoons as educational fare.
According to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), a Cincinnati TV station listed a Phil Donahue talk show on parents who allow their teen-agers to have sex at home as a program that fulfilled the requirements of the legislation.
In the past, broadcasters have said they already air more than three hours of educational programming a week and that to force them to meet a federal mandate would be an unreasonable financial burden and an infringement upon their First Amendment rights.
The FCC has been struggling to formulate new guidelines to ensure that broadcasters comply with the 1990 Children's Television Act, which made educational programming for children a criterion for renewal of broadcast licenses but failed to specify minimum amounts of air time.
If approved, the FCC regulations would require broadcasters to air three hours a week--and up to five hours a week in the future--of educational or informative programming. The rules would also be more specific about what qualifies as educational or informative television and would require that those programs be aired between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The industry, Feinstein said, will not police itself. "The time has really come to take action to see that the Children's Television Act of 1990 is carried out."
A spokesman for NBC said that the network currently airs 2 1/2 hours a week of nonviolent programs aimed at children and that their affiliates broadcast an additional half-hour a week. Martin Franks, CBS' senior lobbyist in Washington, declined to comment.
According to the FCC, the amount of children's educational programming aired on NBC, ABC and CBS has dropped from an average of 11 hours a week in 1981 to two hours in 1990.
The news conference was held to drum up public support for the new regulations, which must be approved by a majority of the FCC's five members. The panel will take comments on the proposals during the next month and could decide on the rules as early as mid-November.
Action for Children's Television founder Peggy Charren, who last month was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of her efforts to improve children's programs, said that if the new regulations are not approved, "then the FCC will be responsible for the biggest sellout to vested interests in the history of broadcasting."
National Parent-Teacher Assn. President-elect Lois Jean White added: "It's time to turn the wasteland into the promise-land."