CHONG QUESTIONS KIDVID QUOTAS, CHIDES LOBBYISTS

FCC commissioner Rachelle Chong last week questioned the need for government-imposed kidvid educational quotas, thereby dealing a potentially fatal blow to chairman Reed Hundt’s campaign for a three-hour-a-day kids’ TV requirement on all commercial television stations.

Chong, a Clinton-appointed Republican, is considered the swing vote at the FCC on Hundt’s kidvid quota plan, and she has been lobbied hard by children’s TV activists to support the FCC chairman.

Speaking before a Women in Cable and Telecommunications confab here, Chong took a swipe at the lobbying efforts of kidvid crusaders, and made it clear she isn’t buying into claims that TV stations have been neglecting a law requiring them to educate moppets.

Chong said Congress rejected specific hourly requirements on kids’ educational TV when it passed the 1990 Children’s Television Act. Moreover, she said recent studies have shown that TV stations are now airing about three hours a week of educational programming for children, up from an hour a week when the kidvid law took effect.

“Given this increase… and given Congress’ express rejection of a quantitative method when drafting the act, I have questions about why a quantitative approach is necessary at this time,” said Chong in the Oct. 30 speech. “I can understand such an approach if there had been no improvement, or worse yet, broadcasters were showing less children’s educational shows than when the act passed. But that is not the case.”

Chong also questioned whether public interest obligations on broadcasters should be quantified. “Does this start us down a slippery slope toward government intrusion in programming content?” she asked. “Could not the (FCC) decide in the future that election information is such a compelling government interest that broadcasters must be required to air two hours a week?”

Chong said she is “frustrated” that the kidvid debate has become “too one-dimensional” and focused almost entirely on Hundt’s three-hour-per-week plan. Equally important, she said, is a need to “dramatically improve” the definition of what constitutes an educational program.

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