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Watchdogs Mind Tube, Shape Quality Of Kids TV

Is it the media’s job to present positive images of children? And how does this concern tie in with entertainment value, not to mention ratings and box office?

James P. Steyer, founder and president of Children Now, a 7year-old, nonprofit children’s advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif., maintains the media – TV entertainment, newscasts, newspapers, even novels – “have an obligation to consider the kids in the market as either direct media consumers or indirect consumers.”

On Feb. 27, Children Now released the results of its poll of 750 children age 10-16. The subject: how television shapes their values. The results revealed that % of the young people polled believe that what they see on TV encourages them to disrespect their parents and to have sex when they are too young. In addition, 82% said they felt TV had an obligation to teach kids right from wrong.

Children Now addressed these findings March 2-4 at its second national conference, “Shaping Our Children’s Values: The Role of the Entertainment Media,” which attracted such heavy-hitters as TV producer Norman Lear and Richard Frank, chairman of Walt Disney Television and Communication and president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Among the other conference highlights: a round-table debate featuring entertainment industry leaders; panel sessions moderated by Tom Brokaw and Carole Simpson; and a group of young viewers directly questioning industry leaders.

While Children Now’s recommendations are wide-ranging, the quality of children’s programming tops their list of priorities, as does the requirement that networks provide a stipulated number of hours of educational programming for children (currently in debate by the FCC).

“We are not advocating PC proscriptions, boycotts or censorship,” says Steyer. “I’m a great supporter of the First Amendment. But we are saying the media has an extraordinary impact on kids. Let’s consider the message and make it positive.”

Steyer focused the group’s attention on the media two years ago, in the wake of the cultural brouhaha surrounding TV violence and its effect on kids.

“Producers are not unconcerned or insensitive to these issues,” Steyer says. “In fact, the three networks and cable have contracted with research groups to look into these very topics.” Self-monitoring, he adds, is preferable to legislation.

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