FCC Tunes in to Children's Programming

Article excerpt

The question is, should the government, parents or TV executives define `educational'?

Most people would agree that Bill Nye, the Science Guy is an educational program for children. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Roseanne probably wouldn't clear the bar. The distinction is more than just a click of the remote.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, recently circulated a petition signed by a majority of House members asking the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, to mandate that broadcasters air three hours of educational fare weekly for youngsters. "Children's television has become the technological equivalent of junk food," he said.

Stations already broadcast under a loosely worded obligation to air educational programs, but their licenses specify no minimum times. Aside from deciding a specific number of hours for educational programming, the commission is trying to define what constitutes an educational show. The process is slow going.

"There's no right or wrong answer," says Valerie Schulte, an attorney for the National Association of Broadcasters, or NAB. "It's decided on the local level by the local broadcaster."

"I think there is a red-face test," says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Media Education. Television executives turn red in the face when they cite The Jetsons or The Flintstones as educational fare.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the issue in June before a national Parent-Teacher Association convention in Washington. "We simply must demand more of the people who are producing and profiting from the shows that young people watch," she said. "From my point of view, the very popular Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers show, for example, has no place in any lineup described as children's programming." President Clinton has proposed a summit with broadcasting leaders to talk about children's programming.

FCC commissioners have been divided over mandating a minimum amount of time for such programming, but they are expected to compromise on a rule requiring at least two hours of educational fare per week. Most commissioners also want to make broadcasters identify which shows specifically are educational and what lessons they are trying to teach -- and to make that information available to publishers of TV listings. …