Politico notes renewed grumblings from the you-can't-say-that-on-television activists of the world. Apparently they're worried that the Federal Communications Commission is insufficiently enforcing a law that requires the agency to regulate advertising in children's shows:
TV watchdog groups say the Federal Communications Commission needs to better target kids’ programs that have too many commercials, and they want the commission and Congress to strengthen oversight of the Children’s Television Act.
Fueling the drive is a Government Accountability Office report issued last week that highlights FCC shortcomings in enforcing the landmark 1990 law intended to raise the quality and educational value of children’s programming while also limiting advertising. The report said the FCC has been lax in ensuring compliance from cable and satellite providers and questioned the commission’s guidelines for determining the educational value of children’s shows.
“It’s another example of FCC priorities being out of whack and the entire commission not taking its responsibility to uphold the law seriously,” said Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, a nonprofit group dedicated to responsible entertainment. “When you look at the sort of selective enforcement on this issue … it’s an indictment of the entire agency.”
Why is it so important for the FCC to keep an eye on kiddie television? It's for the children, of course. And also for the parents. Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, who cosponsored the original law in question, tells Politico that “more needs to be done to give parents the knowledge and the know-how to ensure that they have the tools to find educational programming for their children." Without the FCC's regulatory assistance, apparently, most parents won't have any idea how to find out what they're kids are watching, or whether or not it's any good.
What are these critics actually worried about? Politico's write up says tellingly little about any demonstrated negative effects that have occurred due to lax enforcement, but according to "child media expert" Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona, tougher oversight is necessary in order to ensure that broadcasters air quality programming. When the FCC was paying more attention in the 1990's, he says, "the quality of children’s programming improved." And who gets to decide what counts as quality? The kids who are watching the shows? The parents? Sorry, but no; that's a job for the FCC. In 1996, the agency gave broadcasters an easier path to license renewal in return for airing a minimum number of hours of quality programming, with quality determined by the commission. They're not just regulators, it seems—they're supposed to be TV critics too.
But Kunkel gives the agency's recent performance two thumbs down. Over the years, he says, the FCC "slowly moved to a posture in the 2000s where they completely ignored the issue and the broadcasters offered whatever they want." So broadcasters made their own decisions about what programming to air, and parents made their own decisions about what their kids could or should watch? Sounds awful.