Commercial TV stations in Maryland and Washington barely get a passing grade when it comes to children's programming, according to a "report card" released yesterday by the Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV. The 13 monitored TV stations received an overall grade of D+.
"The stations in Maryland aren't doing a very good job," said campaign director Charlene Hughins Uhl. "Most of the stations had virtually nothing of quality for children on the air."
The Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV is a project of two statewide organizations, Advocates for Children & Youth and Ready At Five, in association with a Washington-based national organization, the Center for Media Education.
"It appears many broadcasters still have not gotten the message," said Kathryn Montgomery, co-director of the Center for Media Education, alluding to the 1990 passage of the Children's Television Act by Congress. The act, enforced by the federal Communications Commission, calls for stations to meet the "educational and informational needs of children." In 1996, the stations included in the report come up for FCC license renewal.
The report card released yesterday was prepared by teams of parents, teachers and community leaders that each focused on a particular station, reviewing its public inspection file to see which programs were identified by the station as being in compliance with the Children's Television Act, and then watching and grading these programs.
"Channel 13 has very few hours of television that are geared to the informational needs of children," says Fay Mauro, a parent who headed the team at Chesapeake Academy, a private school in Arnold. Her team monitored WJZ, where she asserted that " 'It's Academic' is the bright exception."
"The grades were a bit lower than I thought they would be, quite frankly," said Mike Easterling, program director at WJZ. He said the station is considering adding more children's programming.
Although detailed information about individual stations is not provided and team members and station managers are quoted anonymously in the report, the findings include: * A few stations offer only three half-hour children's programs each week.
* Such programs are often clustered on Saturday mornings and are virtually absent at other times.
* Children's programs are sometimes broadcast as early as 5:30 a.m. At whatever hour they're broadcast, however, they are often pre-empted by adult programs with little notice.
* A number of programs exist that are geared toward either preschoolers or teen-agers, but there are too few programs for children ages 6 through 12.
* Some stations put an "educational spin" on cartoons, and one station listed its nightly weather report as part of Children's Television Act compliance efforts.
In addition to the report, Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV, which was created last fall, is also releasing a parental guide, "When Pulling the Plug Is Not Enough . . . A Parent's Guide to TV." It includes advice on how parents can monitor programs and commercials and discuss them with their children.
The following stations were the subject of Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV survey.
* WMAR-TV (Channel 2), NBC, Baltimore
* WRC-TV (Channel 4), NBC, Washington
* WTTG-TV (Channel 5), FOX, Washington
* WJLA-TV (Channel 7), ABC, Washington
* WUSA-TV (Channel 9), CBS, Washington
* WBAL-TV (Channel 11), CBS, Baltimore
* WJZ-TV (Channel 13), ABC, Baltimore
* WDCA-TV (Channel 20), Independent, Washington
* WHAG-TV (Channel 25), NBC, Hagerstown
* WBFF-TV (Channel 45), FOX, Baltimore
* WMDT-TV (Channel 47), ABC, Salisbury
* WFTY-TV (Channel 50), Independent, Washington
* WNUV-TV (Channel 54) Independent, Baltimore
*WBOC (Channel 16) in Salisbury was omitted because it was not monitored by a community team for this year's report.