FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced last week that the commission was going to open an inquiry into its children's TV rules. In some ways, it was a no-brainer. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has already stated that he thought it was necessary to review the 1990 Children's TV Act, from which those rules stem, given the change in video delivery in the ensuing two decades.
Fair enough. A lot of things have changed. TV has morphed into video, and video has moved to computers and cellphones and has exploded onto multichannel platforms.
But that is where we part company a bit with the new chairman. In his testimony before Rockefeller's committee, Genachowski gave a nice shout-out to broadcasting, calling it an “essential medium” and the exclusive source of video programming relied upon by millions of households.
He also said, however, that broadcasting was “uniquely accessible” to the public and, by extension, to children. That echoes the language used by the courts to justify government content regulation. It also flies in the face of the explosion of digital media that Genachowski recognizes, and that both he and Congress say is the reason to revisit the Children's TV Act.
Among the traditional models the Internet has turned upside-down is that broadcasting has a unique hold on audiences. Broadcasters only wish it were true. The vast majority of people watch their TV, even broadcast TV, over a cable or satellite dish; many watch their video, even broadcast network programming, on a computer.
But we don't think that is an argument for regulating those media. Instead, it suggests to us that there is a lot of kids' content to choose from without the government mandating more from inside the Beltway.
We do agree with the FCC chairman that the best solution to making sure our kids are watching the programming their parents want them to is for the parents to have the tools to find the best programming and steer their kids to it. We applaud his decision to revamp the FCC's Website to make it easier for the public to find out where and when broadcasters are scheduling their educational and informational kids' programming. And we agree that there are solutions in creative content and technology that can empower parents, rather than the government, to be the content monitors.
The inquiry, however, should not become an opportunity to use the digital age as a justification for new regulations that interpose themselves between the industry and the audience it serves. And the FCC should entertain the possibility that the explosion of choice could even lead to fewer such intrusions into the marketplace, rather than more.