Industry Protests Educational TV Requirements

The Walt Disney Company is part of a group of entertainment companies challenging federal requirements on the amount of educational programming broadcasters must air each week. With the versatility of digital television, the minimum requirements for educational shows could jump much higher, and broadcasters aren't happy.

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The Walt Disney Company is pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to relax its new rules on children's educational programming on digital television. Disney is one of many entertainment corporations that contend the rules are unfair. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

About 15 years ago, Congress passed an act requiring that broadcasters air three hours of educational programming a week. That was for analog television. But digital TV is changing the stakes. Philip Napoli teaches media economics at Fordham University.

Mr. PHILIP NAPOLI (Fordham University): I think the most important thing that digital television brings to the TV landscape is the ability for broadcast stations to multiplex their signal; that is, instead of providing one stream of programming, they'd be able to provide four or five or maybe even six simultaneously.

ULABY: Napoli says new rules for digital television would require broadcasters to air more educational programming: three hours per week per channel. And broadcasters are not happy. Some are complaining that the FCC is trampling on their First Amendment rights.

Mr. NAPOLI: To a certain degree, broadcasting starts to look a lot more like cable when we start talking about multiple channel streams, and whether it's appropriate for the FCC to dictate three hours on each of these program streams is something that especially the contemporary courts might have a problem with.

ULABY: A federal court has been asked by Viacom, which owns CBS and the cable channel Nickelodeon, to overturn the new rules on kids' TV. Gloria Tristani runs the Office of Communications at the United Church of Christ, which is also opposed to the rules.

Ms. GLORIA TRISTANI (United Church of Christ): We went to court because we didn't think the FCC actually went far enough.

ULABY: Tristani is a former FCC commissioner. She wants a total ban on interactive advertising targeted to kids on digital TV. She says her nightmare is a world where kids watching television could click on a link on screen and find themselves in a virtual ad. Disney and Viacom representatives declined on-air interviews, but Philip Napoli says their reasoning is understandable.

Mr. NAPOLI: The broadcasters make the fairly compelling argument that digital broadcasting is sort of an unknown from an economic viability standpoint, so they feel like they need to have as many economic incentives to pursue it as possible.

ULABY: Still, just in the past year, Disney and Viacom were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for not complying with current rules for kids' programming on analog TV. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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