The Federal Communications Commission yesterday took the first step toward possible action to force the television industry to increase "informational" programming for children.
The commission voted unanimously to consider five options proposed by its staff to increase the diversity of children's television programming.
The rulemaking proceeding was hailed as a victory by Action for Children's Television, a consumer group that has been leading the fight for more government control over television programming for children.
In voting to open the rulemaking proceeding, the commission requested comments from the industry and viewers on the staff options, as well as any other comments they might have on the "kidvid" issue.
At the same time, several commissioners were careful to point out that they are not yet endorsing any specific regulatory proposals.
"I personally have a very open mind on this subject," said FCC Chairman Charles Ferris. He said he would be reluctant to impose an FCC requirement "that each television station air a specific amount of weekday programming for preschoolers and school-age children..."
Commissioner Abbott Washburn issued a strong dissent on an option that would set hours for children's programming, calling it "counterproductive and disruptive." He warned that such a proposal could "lead us straight into a legal morass of several years' duration," over First Amendment questions.
The FCC report concluded that commercial television has failed to meet its obligations to improve informational childrens' programming, as set forth in the FCC's 1974 policy statement on television for children. In addition to mandatory hours for programming, it also proposed less severe remedies, such as increasing Public TV children's programming.
In praising yesterday's move, Peggy Charren, president of ACT, said: "We think that the vote to initiate the rulemaking is a major victory, and the nicest holiday gift the FCC could give to the children of America." But the broadcasting industry was wary of the new investigation.
"we continue to think that this whole proceeding is based upon a staff report that is totally unrealistic in terms of what is really going on in children's programming," said John Summers, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. "They didn't even consider what is offered by Public Television or locally produced infomational children's programming. And they totally ignored brief inserts such as "In the News,' and 'School House Rock.'"
But Summers said, the NAB was "encouraged by the very grave reservations about mandatory programming expressed by several commissioners."