DIC Defends Kids Shows

The recent challenge of D.C. TV station licenses over kids TV programming could come down to dueling children's TV experts. If so, program supplier DIC Entertainment likes its chances.

A "furious" DIC CEO Andy Heyward came to the strong defense of his children's TV block Thursday in an interview with B&C, pointing out that the shows had been developed with the help of a noted children's TV educator expressly to meet the FCC kids TV requirements.

Two shows in that block were said to lack "any significant educational purpose" by two activist groups, which challenged the license renewal of Fox's UPN affiliate, WDCA TV Washington, because WDCA cited those shows as part of its FCC-mandated weekly three hours of educational kids programming.

The activists went further saying Stargate Infinity and Ace Lightning were actively "anti-social," according to children's TV researcher Dale Kunkel (a communications professor at the University of Arizona), who helped the United Church of Christ and Center for Digital Democracy make that call. “A program that includes one violent attack after another cannot seriously be said to teach children to ‘get along with others’ as WDCA claims,” he said.

That charge incensed Heyward, who says he and DIC take the educational mandate "very seriously." Heyward pointed out that the groups did not say the shows had not met the FCC's six-point test for educational requirements. That's because the shows do meet all those criteria, he said, which includes a curriculum outline for each show. Instead, the groups concluded they were unfit because they "teach anti-social behavior," a judgment call Heyward says is way off the mark.

"As far as this being anti-social behavior and not meeting the standards of the children's television act, nothing could be farther from the truth," says Heyward. "We have had extensive work done in developing the educational mandates of each and every episode of the series and that assertion is without merit."

Heyward points out that the shows had been developed by a leading educational children's TV authority, Don Roberts, a chairman of the department of communications at Stanford University with a specialty in FCC compliance. Heyward says some of Robert's research actually contributed to the creation of the Children's TV Act that mandated the quota.

Heyward further adds that all 10 of the shows that are part of DIC's FCC-friendly branded three-hour educational kids block, carried on over 400 stations, have been similarly developed. One of the suppliers best known FCC-friendly shows, Captain Planet, is returning to the block in January.

Roberts provided DIC with an extensive defense of the shows in an e-mail to Heyward in response to the B&C story, saying: "Given my involvement with these two shows, and the fact that I devoted many hours both to developing educational messages for each episode and to advising how to present those messages in ways likely to be noted by young viewers, I feel compelled to respond to the critics’ claims.

"Each of the two series at issue began with the overarching goal of using an action-adventure format (to which 8-12-year-olds are particularly attracted) to present messages relevant to children’s social development.

"I suspect that a primary motive underlying the challenge lies in the perception that the programs 'contain an anti-social message' and 'include one violent attack after another.'  Many critics believe that any violence should automatically disqualify a show from fulfilling the FCC mandate. In my view, the preceding description mischaracterizes both shows, and the belief that any violence should lead to disqualification is mistaken.

"People of good will can disagree about whether or not the portrayal of a violent confrontation should automatically eliminate a program as qualifying to fulfill the FCC educational/instructional programming mandate. Clearly I do not agree with that position."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.