It took a decade of lobbying by child advocacy groups to win passage of a law addressing the dismal state of television programming for children. It may well take another decade to ensure that stations comply with the law. The first "report card" for commercial stations serving Maryland viewers has bad news -- and good.
The bad news is that commercial stations in the area so far have been "seriously deficient" in their efforts to comply with the law, earning only a D+. But the good news for Marylanders is the grass-roots interest that produced the report. "Report Card '93" is the work of 14 teams of parents, educators and community groups coordinated by Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV, the first group in the country to undertake a comprehensive effort to monitor compliance with the Children's Television Act of 1990.
The act requires commercial television stations to air educational and informational programming for children and also limits the amount of time that can be devoted to commercials during children's programs. To give the law some teeth, Congress linked the renewal of a station's broadcast license to compliance with the law.
But public interest and scrutiny is also crucial to the act's success, since stations' notions of educational programming might differ wildly from parents' or teachers' ideas. Last fall, for instance, the Washington-based Center for Media Education publicized examples of programs cited by stations as educational or informative for kids. One Ohio station pointed to an episode of "Donohue" entitled, "Teen-age Strippers and their Liberal Moms."
That's where the Maryland Campaign for Kids' TV comes in. By enlisting a team of parents, educators, children and other interested citizens to monitor each station through 1996 (when fTC area stations must apply for license renewal), the group hopes to establish some continuity and credibility to its "report card" approach. By committing themselves to the project for several years, team members will be able to establish better relationships with station managers and programmers.
Television can enhance a child's educational and emotional development or it can encourage aggressive, violent behavior and sap interest from school work, hobbies and friends. Either way, it's here to stay. Marylanders can be thankful that Campaign for Kids' TV appears to have a solid understanding of the role this medium plays in children's lives, as well as of the patient, persistent work that is necessary to make that role a more positive one.