For far too long, too many broadcasters have been accustomed to treating children's television programming as an inexhaustible cash cow, a venue for selling everything from sugar-coated flakes to anatomically correct dolls and frighteningly realistic toy weapons.
In an effort to protect unsophisticated young audiences, Congress passed the Children's Television Act of 1990, which limits the number of commercials that can be shown with children's television. But broadcasters routinely ignore the law, cramming in as many commercials as the market will bear.
Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission levied fines against four Midwestern television stations for "repeated, egregious violations over an extended period." The fines ranged from $25,000 to $30,000 and were the highest ever imposed for such violations. FCC Commissioner Ervin Duggan said the action was taken "to send a clear and unambiguous signal that we mean business when it comes to enforcing this act."
The law limits commercials to 10 1/2 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. One of the stations fined exceeded those limits 197 times between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, 1992. Two others went over the limit 121 times during a similar period and the fourth station violated the limits 87 times over an 11-month period. The violations ranged from 15 seconds to more than two minutes over the limit for each incident cited.
Television's enormous impact on the development of young minds is being scrutinized more closely than ever today in regard to the effects of graphic violence and sex. The crackdown on broadcasters who use children's programming as an unregulated tap to make money serves to put violators on notice such abuses will no longer be tolerated.
There simply is no excuse for this kind of crass exploitation of impressionable young minds for commercial gain.