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Funding for Children's TV Endowment Called Paltry

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Washington--The new National Endowment for Children's Educational Television holds promise for improving children's programming, but it is hampered by a serious lack of funding, participants at a colloquium here agreed last week.

The endowment, created by the Children's Television Act of 1990, will provide funding for educational programming that must appear first on public television before being made available to commercial stations.

Several prominent broadcasters agreed at a panel discussion here that the establishment of the endowment, which is to include an advisory council on children's television, creates a much-needed advocate at the federal level for better educational programming.

"This will provide leadership, focus, and direction for children's education4al television," Jennifer Lawson, the chief programmer for the Public Broadcasting Service, said at the session, organized by the Annenberg Washington Program of Northwestern University and the American Children's Television Festival.

"This endowment will raise the political importance of children's television," added Gary Knell, vice president of the Children's Television Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street" and other educational programming.

Panelists agreed that the $6 million authorized for the endowment for the next two fiscal years--$2 million in 1991 and $4 million in 1992--was a paltry sum in terms of producing television programs today.

"Two to four million dollars doesn't go a long way," said Ms. Lawson, who would use the first $2 million for research on how children learn from television.

Phyllis Tucker Vinson, executive producer for NBC Productions and the former head of children's programming for the network, called for funding several pilot TV programs, then deciding on a single series that works best to educate children.

Robert Keeshan, for 35 years known to viewers as "Captain Kangaroo" and an outspoken advocate for children's TV, proposed that some of the money be used to develop materials to help parents guide their children's television viewing.

He said the new law is flawed because it requires that programming funded by the endowment not be interrupted by advertisements when used by commercial stations. That provision ignores the market realities of commercial TV, he said.

However, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who will administer the endowment, can alter that requirement, Mr. Keeshan noted.

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