The Education of Children's Television

Children's "educational television" in the United States has always been somewhat of a joke. Parents concerned with what their kids are watching are faced with a very limited viewing choice beyond PBS and the rare gem on commercial and cable TV. Although the Children's Television Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-437) was supposed to force broadcasters to give a certain amount of time over to "educational" shows, the definition of what was educational was somewhat loose. The shows broadcasters tried to pass off as "educational" bordered on the ridiculous. Children's advocacy groups and parents complained, but the government did little to enforce the Act.All this changed in mid-July, when child advocacy groups and the broadcasting industry reached a historic agreement at a White House summit. The agreement will break the impasse at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the Children's Television Act.For the past four years, the Center For Media Education, on behalf of a coalition of more than a dozen child advocacy, health and education groups in Washington, DC, has been urging the FCC to strengthen the Children's Television Act. With the help of FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and President Clinton, the group set up a summit with FCC Commissioners and members of the broadcasting community, drawing up guidelines that will pave the way for higher quality children's programming.Television stations must now follow a "processing guideline" if they want their license renewed. Three hours of "core programming" -- shows that are specifically designed to educate and inform children -- must be shown per week. The shows must be at least 30 minutes in length, regularly scheduled, and air only between 7 am and 10 pm. Television stations that fail to follow these "processing guidelines" will have to make their case directly to FCC Commissioners or face not having their license renewed.Children's advocacy groups hope that this agreement is the first step in the "smartening up" of programs aimed at children. Soon, parents will have more to choose from than just Mutant Turtles or Power Rangers.

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