Television occupies a large part of children's time from an early age. Among its many functions, education, social learning (prosocial as well as antisocial), and selling products are well documented by research evidence. Commercial programming for children in the United States consists primarily of cartoons and entertainment shows; educational and informative programs are supplied by public broadcasting and, to some degree, by a few cable channels emphasizing the child audience. The structural organization and revenue sources for children's television have a direct effect on program and commercial content. We propose two principal goals for public policy in this domain: to promote programming that serves the diverse needs of children for education, entertainment, aesthetic appreciation, and knowledge about the world, and to protect children from television content and advertising practices that exploit their special vulnerability. In recent years the Federal Communications Commission has followed a philosophy of deregulation, based on the assumption that market forces would generate diverse programming and limit commercialization. The data, as applied to the programming marketplace for children, contradict that assumption. We recommend a requirement for a minimum amount of informational and educational programming for children on every station, and we propose strengthening public broadcasting, currently the only source of such programming for many children. Cable and alternative technologies cannot carry the burden of serving children's needs unless they become universally available. Regulation is also needed to protect children from commercial exploitation. The long-range policy goal should be to eliminate advertising to children; short-range goals include reinstatement of time limits on advertising and restrictions on product-related programs.
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