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FCC Asks For Input On Kids Content

The FCC wants to know whether its educational criteria for FCC-friendly kids shows need some work.

Just a day after House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey had questions for the FCC about its enforcement of Markey's Children's Television Act, the commission has asked broadcasters for input on the act as part of a 2004 inquiry into the children's TV obligations in the digital age.

Commission Democrats have been pushing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to complete inquiries and come up with ground rules for digital TV obligations.

The Commission came up with digital kids TV rules in concert with broadcasters and children's TV advocates, but those were essentially about the number of hours stations had to air, the number of ads they could air in the shows, and the limits on marketing to kids via associated Web sites.

The notice, which it promised as part of the digital kids rule order and issued Tuesday by the FCC, asks a host of questions about the content of educational children's shows--the FCC requires stations to air at least three hours a week of educational/informational (E/I) kids shows, but has left it up to broadcasters, on the honor system, to meet that standard for "core" educational shows.

And there's the rub. From The Jetsons to baseball  to telenovellas, broadcasters have offered a wide variety of shows as E/I, to the chagrin of kids TV activists.

Univision paid an FCC-record $24 million to settle a consent decree with the FCC over complaints Univision's  teen-targeted telenovella was not educational or informational.One of the biggest suppliers of educational kids shows, DIC, which has teamed with CBS on its Saturday morning block, has argued strongly that there are a variety of ways to meet the test, including cartoons with pro-social themes like tolerance and cooperation.

The FCC is now asking for comment, over the next two and a half months or so, on a number of points. They include whether the FCC's E/I criteria, which are essentially only that it meet the educational and informational needs of kids 16 and under, are sufficient to define the category, whether they need to be more specific, whether the FCC's allowance for some preemption of kids shows work against compliance and congressional intent and how well licensees are or are not complying with kids programming rules.