THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GREG SIMON, CHIEF DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER FOR THE VICE PRESIDENT The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. SIMON: Good morning. It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood for America's children. The President today announced that there's been an agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters; the Center for Media Education, which is the leading advocate for children; Peggy Charren, who is the leader of the movement for children's television; and with Congressman Ed Markey, who shepherded the Children's Television Act through the Congress -- on a compromise proposal that the President and that group are hoping and urging the FCC to adopt as soon as possible, that will require broadcasters to air three hours of regularly scheduled, half-hour weekly programs specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children as part of their requirement for license renewal.
The shows have to be aired at times when children are watching, between 7:00 in the morning and 10:00 in the evening. The agreement among all of these groups is reflected in a series of letters which have been made available to you in the press packet -- a letter from Ms. Charren, a letter from the Center for Media Education, a letter from Congressman Markey, and a letter from Eddie Fritts, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
We're very excited that after years of contention about how to best serve the needs of children, all of the stakeholders in children's television have agreed on a proposal that will increase the amount of educational programming available to children, but also provides broadcasters flexibility in how they achieve those three hours.
In summary, as part of the license renewal under the Children's Television Act, a broadcaster who shows that he or she has produced or aired three hours of regularly scheduled, weekly half-hour shows between the times of 7:00 and 10:00, specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children will be able to check a box, list those programs and receive approval at the staff level at the FCC for that portion of their license renewal. There are obviously other issues besides children's television that go into license renewal.
A broadcaster who does somewhat less than three hours can still come to the staff at the FCC and show that through a combination of specials -- through public service announcements, through short programs, such as 15-minute after school news shows, and through regularly scheduled shows that are not weekly, such as bimonthly or monthly shows that are scheduled and advertised, they could show that their commitment is equivalent to airing three hours of regularly scheduled half-hour shows. They also would be able to receive staff level approval.
Broadcasters who do not meet that hurdle would have to go to the full commission in a much lengthier and costly process to show that they have met the requirements of the Children's Television Act. We're confident that this proposal combines proper incentives and flexibility for broadcasters that will result in the increase in educational programming on children's television. And we're especially happy that advocates like Peggy Charren and Kathyrn Montgomery, from the Center for Media Education, and Ed Markey, agree that this proposal is the best way to move forward. We have urged the FCC to adopt this proposal. And we would anticipate favorable action as soon as possible.
The origin of this proposal was a letter written to Chairman Reed Hundt that was made public, a letter from Ralph Gabbard, a broadcaster in Lexington, Kentucky. He had seen public statements by the commissioners and obviously had been following the debate, and proposed a guideline that became the core of this compromise. The President and the Vice President were very happy to be joined this morning by Mr. Fritts, by Les Moonves, representing the networks, and by Peggy Charren, each of whom made statements in support of the agreement in addition to their letters.
Reed Hundt, at the Commission, has released a statement within the hour in which he says he is totally delighted with the announcement and that he is very pleased with the details of the proposal and is looking forward to working with the other commissioners to adopt a proposal along the lines suggested.
The broadcasters will also have to file reports quarterly and annually that will be available to citizens in the community and segregated from other reports so that they will be easy to find. They will file electronic reports, if they choose, with the FCC, which will make them available on the Internet. And we are counting on community involvement and the activity of community groups that care about children's television to help encourage educational programs community by community.
And with that, I'll leave questions.
Q Who did they really -- what did the broadcasters really agree to do? Better Saturday morning cartoons, or special --what do you or what does the administration specifically want out of this?
MR. SIMON: The Children's Television Act requires that to count as educational programming, programs be specifically designed for the purpose of educating and informing children. And let me give you two examples. If you go and ask "Sesame Street" what is the specific purpose you're addressing in any given show, they can tell you what the educational objective is, what the advice was from teachers, what they're hoping children learn from that show. That is different from what happened in the past in which people said the specific purpose of "The Jetsons" was to educate children about life in the 21st century.
Those distinctions are pretty easy to draw these days. There are a number of citizen groups -- the Annenberg School of Communications announced one just several weeks ago -- a blue ribbon commission of people, including Jonathan Kozol, for instance, who will be a sort of "Consumer Reports" organization to advertise and publicize those shows they feel meet educational requirements.
I want to stress, there is not a governmental definition of what is educational -- it is up to the broadcasters. But to be compliant with this guideline and to be compliant with the pressure that community groups and the Congress will continue to bring to bear, we have every confidence that broadcasters are going to be airing more and more shows like "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" and fewer shows like "The Jetsons," and calling those educational.
Q But public television isn't problem here. It's the commercial television that's --
MR. SIMON: That's correct.
Q So are there shows -- you say these clearinghouses will publicize shows that they find acceptable on commercial television?
MR. SIMON: Yes, that's right. On all television, but commercial television, that's correct.
Q And do you expect the networks to produce these shows, or do you expect them to be syndicated and bought by individual stations? How do they meet their requirement?
MR. SIMON: We expect a thousand programs to bloom. There's several ways to meet the requirement. One way you could show that you met the requirement, although it's a harder way to show, is that you have produced a show on another station, or helped another station produce a show that increased the total programming for children on that station.
The production world is looking at this in several different ways. You have Children's Television Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," that is going to be, I'm sure, a very popular place for people to invest production money. You have a number of companies in the cable business that are going to be producing shows that will be available for commercial, over-the-air broadcast stations to have. Just last week, John Sie, the head of Encore Productions, that produces "Wham," a children's show, said that they will produce three hours of educational children's programming they will make available for free to any broadcaster who wishes to air those shows.
We think that today is going to be the stimulus for a real golden age in television production for children in many, many different ways.
Q Does this deal apply to the digital spectrum, when broadcasters get a second license and they can beam multiple channels into the air -- what is this deal going to do in that environment?
MR. SIMON: This agreement relates to broadcaster's obligations for license renewal, regardless of whether it's an analog or a digital license. The question of what obligations will accompany the digital spectrum are still in the air, as there's not yet a proposal on exactly how the digital licenses are going to be awarded.
Q Are there any regular network programs right now that you consider educational?
MR. SIMON: Oh, sure there are, there are just too few of them. For instance, Fox Television started "Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego?" ABC, I believe, is one that has a after school news program for kids. There are a number of shows in prime time that could also count as educational shows.
Q Like what? Names?
MR. SIMON: Some people would say that "Saved By The Bell" could be an educational show. Other people would say that, for instance, "The Cosby Show" -- Bill Cosby was here today -- was mentioned as a show that was not just entertainment, but was value-laden, I think is the phrase that was used.
Q The original one?
MR. SIMON: The original "Cosby Show." I don't want to get into an inventory, but I think a lot of people know that there are shows that teach children basic educational skills, as well as values, and probably the best message from this morning was we have to quit thinking about education and entertainment as being opposed values in production. Shows that educate and entertain need to be thought of as one unit. And people like Bill Nye and LeVar Burton, who were here this morning, and Mr. Rogers, are classic examples where no one would stop and think, is this really entertaining or is this really educational. These are valuable shows for children.
Q Specifically, what in this proposal would prevent a broadcaster from once again saying "The Flintstones," you know, or "The Jetsons" teach life, you know -- "Jetsons" in the 21st century.
MR. SIMON: Right.
Q Tell us specifically what would stop that from happening.
MR. SIMON: Well, let me give you a fast -- a very quick review of the debate at the FCC and why this guideline is the culmination of it.
Everybody knows that you have to do something very drastic -- generally, commit a felony in the station -- to lose your broadcast license. So saying either you air three hours or we'll pull your license is an empty threat.
So what the FCC had proposed sometime back was, we will make it very easy for you to get your license renewed with regard to the Children's Television Act if you air three hours of truly educational programming. If you don't, you can still come in and argue that "The Jetsons" are educational, but it is going to cost you a lot of time and a lot of money; and, frankly, local broadcasters are not interested in spending the time and money that they're going to have on this issue in a bureaucratic legal fight when they could spend it on educational children's television.
Now, the children's advocacy community feels that the incentives built into this guideline are a much more effective way to get programs on air than to threaten to pull people's licenses if they don't do it, knowing that there are very few instances when people have lost their licenses in the history of broadcast television. And, I would point out, the National Association of Broadcasters, in their letter and in their verbal statement, said that they view this form of guideline as constitutional; that they will not bring suit, and they will oppose a suit if one is brought. To not have to fight this issue in court for years and years is of intrinsic value all by itself.
Q Greg, why was it necessary for the White House to do what the FCC is supposed to do -- in other words, broker a deal between these parties?
MR. SIMON: It may come as a shock to you, but a lot of people write and call us that they would like us to help them achieve the goal of three hours of educational television. So our concern was how can we bring the broadcaster community and the children's advocates into agreement on a proposal that could be offered to the FCC? The Gabbard proposal offered a window of opportunity. The Vice President and Mrs. Gore, Mrs. Clinton and the President had been involved in this issue for years and years. We felt this was the --the iron was hot and so we struck.
Q Yes, but when Mr. Fritts gave his comments at the start of the meeting, he promised not to sue as long as the FCC didn't stray too far from this agreement. So are you telling an independent regulatory agency, essentially, do this or else?
MR. SIMON: No, we're not. We are suggesting that this is a compromise supported by all of the stakeholders in this debate. And it is based on a guideline that was presented to the FCC publicly, which was well received publicly by Commissioner Hundt. What the NAB said was, they can live with this guideline; they can't guarantee they could live with drastic changes from this guideline.
Q Greg, you guys got the V-chip. You have got children's TV now. There are some other issues people are talking about in terms of violence and the family hour. Have you guys gotten what you want, or are you going to keep pushing on other issues pertaining to entertainment and, especially, TV?
MR. SIMON: Well, first off, we are very happy that six months ago to the day the industry agreed to voluntarily rate television programs to help parents guide their family's viewing. And today we think that this will be a great step forward in providing positive choices for people to make. With regard to the family viewing hour, the President, like any parent, has hope that the networks and broadcasters will choose to air family fare when families are viewing. But we have not made proposals to require such and don't expect to do so.
Q Mr. Simon, I just wanted to ask you, under this compromise, how much of the programming going toward the three-hour quota, would have to be half-hour, regularly scheduled? How much of it could be PSAs?
MR. SIMON: If you want the fastest processing at the Commission, you do three hours of regularly scheduled, half-hour weekly programs between 7:00 and 10:00. That's just -- you literally check a box and you're done. If you do somewhat less -- and that's the actual term, if you do somewhat less than three hours -- it is flexible as to how many hours you can do. But the bottom line is that your package, your total package, has to demonstrate a commitment equivalent to airing three hours of regularly scheduled half-hour programs. And I would point out that the commitment people will make in the broadcast community to do the three hours will be that some of them will produce their own shows, some of them will adjust their schedules. There will be a considerable level of commitment.
So we have provided flexibility, and the children's advocacy groups want there to be flexibility because some people, for some age groups, want to target those age groups with 15-minute shows or specials they can watch in prime time with their parents. So we have built in some flexibility. The limits will come about and contrast with the people who are doing the three hours and the level of effort that they're expending.
Q As a general rule --
MR. SIMON: Just a minute. Let him follow-up.
Q Why does that take more time? I don't understand that, because you said it would be fastest if you did the three hours, but it's okay to do this other thing -- but why would it take more time?
MR. SIMON: Well, if you do the second thing, if you do the package and you want to come in and show it's the equivalent, you have to come in and show it. You can't just claim it. You have to come in and say, this is what we aired, when we aired it, why we did it, and show that your total package --
MR. SIMON: Yes.
Q As a general rule, is this going to mean the average broadcaster is going to change programming for about an hour a week or two or three? How much is it a change for each of them?
MR. SIMON: I don't want to venture an answer on that. There are about 1500 broadcasters that would be affected by this, probably more. And I imagine there are all kinds of different mix. Some people are doing three hours of programming today. Other people are doing far less, and I think they will be doing a lot more.
Q Just to clear up, this affects over-the-air broadcasting and not cable?
MR. SIMON: Correct.
Q You've blurred the line a little bit for me, and I just want to make sure I understand it. The statute says the show must be specifically designed to educate and inform, but you said "Saved by the Bell" and the old "Cosby Show" conceivably could meet that standard. In the case where that is at issue, is it up to the FCC then to review the specific show and say, this meets the standard or it does not?
MR. SIMON: Number one, a lot of networks claim that shows like "Saved By the Bell" and -- there's an afternoon show, that the name is escaping me at the moment, that's a new show -- are aimed at the family audience for an educational purpose. I don't want to get into my personal opinion of what is or is not an educational show, but if you're going to claim a show as educational, you would make that claim to the FCC. And if the FCC had severe concerns about it, they would raise that with you. But you would have to show that the program ,as you've said, was specifically designed to serve educational and informational needs of children.
In some cases, in the second example where you bring a whole package in, you could show that certain public service announcements, certain 15-minute shows, certain one-hour specials do that. If people want to claim prime time programs, they would have to show that they're specifically designed to meet some educational purpose.
Q Just as a benchmark, would the Vice President describe "The Simpsons" as an educational show?
MR. SIMON: I haven't asked him. I'll ask him.
Q And Saturday morning cartoons are the other place where the broadcasters -- we have all this kids programming on.
MR. SIMON: I would argue that Saturday morning cartoons in general, with the exception of some shows like "Magic School Bus" that are PBS, are not what most people would consider educational.
Let me make one other point. The meeting this morning was opened by Dr. Aletha Huston from Kansas, who has won numerous awards for her studies of children and children's television watching. And her study that was recently completed followed kids from preschool through high school, showed a direct correlation between the amount of educational shows children watched as preschool children and their academic performance in high school. And other variables in terms of demographics, in terms of literacy skills as youngsters did not affect the outcome. It was the educational shows they watched as young children.
Q Could I ask -- you say that some programmers and some broadcasters are already showing three hours a week. The President said most are showing two. What's the big deal here? Why don't you only ask for another hour, 12 minutes a day?
MR. SIMON: I'll tell you what the big deal is. Ten or 15 years ago, networks showed 12 hours a week of children's educational programs. And 20 years ago they had children's news shows in broadcast television.
What we're trying to do, after years of degradation in the '80s, is to bring at least two percent of the air time, three hours a week, that's guaranteed to be aimed to educate children, because it makes a difference in their lives.
And if some stations are already doing two and it just increases it by one hour, that's 50 percent increase and the likelihood the child will find an educational show when they plop down in front of the television. It can be one of the biggest tools we have to educate children and parents, since children spend more time watching television than any other activity than sleeping.
END 1:57 P.M.