Children were back on the agenda in the Senate Commerce Committee, for the specific purpose of considering an update of the Children’s Television Act of 1990. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that an in-depth study of the issue, as commissioned by committee member Mark Pryor (D-AR) was due out next month, and that pretty much everything is on the table. The good news: he’d prefer to promote tools to empower parents over government-mandated content policies.
Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller noted that much has changed in the 20 years since the law was passed and that tweaks may well be in order. He also requested a “little red button” that would provide instant ratings information on television programming that is in progress.
Genachowski said broadcasters needed to continue providing a minimum of educational programming – currently that total is three hours weekly, but saw no need to extend that requirement to cable. He wants interactive advertising aimed at children banned unless parents opt in. As for Rockefeller’s red button, he said he’d catalog all tools currently available to parents to control content – noting that parents reserve this right to themselves and are not ready to turn it over to the government – and to encourage development of new and better tools.
Following are summaries of Genachowski’s testimony as well as that of the second panel.
Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission (FCC): CTA is landmark legislation, promoting educational/information programming and limiting commercialization. Children remain our most precious natural resource. Must be educated and protected from commercial exploitation. Second, television is a unique, universal medium. Third, much has changed since 1990, like DTV. Cable options are greater, internet opens up more content. Parents today worry about TVs, computers, gaming consoles and mobile phones. FCC is already working on inquiry on topic commissioned by Sen. Pryor that is due next month. Enduring principles: Education. Protection – kids are not “little consumers.” Power of parents provide full range of tools. Recognized rolls of government and private sector. Wants all providers of video programming to rise to the occasion. PSAs can have real benefits. Providers must ask themselves if they are acting responsibly. FCC should determine how it can best empower parents in a digital age. Interactive ads aimed at children should be banned unless there is a parently opt-in provided.
Gary Knell, Chief Executive Officer and President, Sesame Workshop: Sesame Street is 40. Today, not as big a preschool need; 6-11 is where the hole is now, and hopes Genachowski will look into that gap. Merger of formal and digital learning. Huge public health issues, such as food marketing, which government needs to step in on. Media also needs to step up and look itself in the mirror.
Sandra Calvert, Director, Children’s Digital Media Center, Georgetown University: Digital media can be used to enlighten and educate children, and prepare them for the future. Despite mere three hour TV requirement, much of what is out there has been determined to be substandard. Meanwhile, performance in schools is not going well. It’s time for commercial broadcasters to give back. Require broadcasters to expand childrens programming, using website, digital side channels.
John Lawson, Executive Vice President, ION Media Networks: Testifying for NAB, and as a parent. Broadcasters provide high quality educational programming and are adding more thanks to DTV. ION’s QUBO hits the 6-11 group Knell was talking about and can be received over a mobile phone. QUBO is a 24/7 bilingual children’s service, the only one of its kind on air. Called the gold standard in the battle against childhood obesity. Children access programs in many ways, from many sources, both commercial and noncommercial. Broadcasters look forward to working with committee to update the Act.
Cyma Zarghami, President, Nickelodeon & MTVN Family Group: Nick was developed to give older kids who were forced to watch adult fare something of their own. Willingly follows the Act, and doesn’t see any need for any changes.
James Steyer, CEO, Common Sense Media: This is a transformational moment in media history. Educate, empower and protect. This pertains to television, computers and mobile phones. Education: far more quality content on all platforms. Educate kids AND teachers about digital literacy and citizenship. Empowerment is the little red button to get instant reviews, and it is close to being a reality. Protection is critical, from industry, the FCC and this committee. This is truly an issue that will bring Democrats and Republicans together. Think big, think dramatic, make big investments.
RBR/TVBR observation: Just when it seems like children’s issues have quieted they always resurface – in other words, the issue is a Washington perennial, always good for some cheap political points and equally available to members of both parties.
We often find ourselves thinking that we were brought up largely on a diet of Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Popeye, and we turned out OK. And to this day, we eat our spinach.
On the other hand, as parents, we do not want our kids glued to a television screen running though mindless, empty programming with zero redeeming value, broken up only by advertisements for things that are not good for them and that we don’t want them requesting from us.
It’s a difficult area to legislate. And it is also an area where industry self-regulation goes a long way toward heading off legislation if the self-reg is effective.
At any rate, we’ll keep our eyes peeled to see if there will be any actual material changes to the rules of the road as a result of this hearing.