Network Children's Educational Sought in Group's FCC Petition
In an action intended to "alert" the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to the lack of educational programming for children on commercial television, the Washington Association for Television and Children (WATCH), an independent watchdog group, has filed petitions with the commission to deny license renewals to the three network affiliates in the Washington area on the grounds that they have not fulfilled their obligations to children.
The petitions, prepared with the assistance of the Citizens Communication Center of Georgetown University, are the first step in WATCH's longer-range strategy to promote more regularly scheduled educational programming for children on weekdays, especially in the peak children's viewing hours, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Statistics show that children between the ages of 2 and 5 and 6 and 11 spend an average of 29 and 25.5 hours, respectively, watching television each week. Approximately 80 percent of that time for both groups falls on weekdays, mostly after 4:30 p.m.
During those hours, WATCH President Mary Anne Banta says, "zero percent" of regularly scheduled programming for preschool and school-age children is educational.
'A Special Obligation to Children'
According to the petition, that is in violation of the FCC's guidelines for licensed affiliates' responsibility to children, set forth in its 1974 Children's Television Report and Policy Statement. The FCC concluded in that report that "broadcasters have a special obligation to serve children."
The FCC document focused on two areas of the television industry's service to children: programming and advertising practices. In 1960 the commission had recognized children's programming as a distinct category, and in the 1974 report it asserted that "a reasonable amount of programming [should be] designed to educate and inform--and not simply to entertain."
At the ABC affiliate WJLA, station manager James D. Boaz said WATCH's action was misdirected. "The argument they have with the network is one thing and it should be kept in its place," he said. "The local affiliates don't make these kinds of decisions. I thought we had been doing a good job working together over the past three years."
In its 1974 statement, the FCC did not clearly define what a "reasonable amount" of educational programming would be, and part of the reason for the petitions, according to WATCH, is to prompt clearer guidelines of what the affiliates'--and networks'--responsibilities to children really are.
The move comes at a time when the FCC is asking itself just what its policy role regarding children's television should be.
The commission started an internal proceeding during the Carter Administration to assess what had happened since the 1974 policy statement on children's TV. The Children's Television Task Force, which was established to update the 1974 policy, is unsure what its role will be under the Reagan Administration.
The FCC is setting up a list of staff priorities regarding children's television, and it is a question whether or not the updated report will appear at all.
WATCH's petition to deny license renewals to Washington stations WRC (NBC), WJLA (ABC), and WDVM (CBS) will, its sponsors hope, keep the FCC in a policy-making role, make the local stations more responsive "to the programming needs of children," and ultimately prod the networks into producing more educational children's programming.
Right now, Ms. Banta points out, "Captain Kangaroo remains the only weekday children's show regularly presented by a network."
The three petitions, co-signed by WATCH, the Daycare and Child Development Council of America, Inc., and three individuals including William H. Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union, are intended as models for local groups interested in filing similar petitions against local stations. Copies of the petitions are available from WATCH, P.O. Box 5462, Washington, D.C., 20016.
Vol. 01, Issue 02, Page 4