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[music] WGBH Boston in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic Communications at the School of Communications at Boston University now presents The First Amendment and a Free People, an examination of civil liberties and the media in the 1970s. And now here is the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication, Dr. Bernard Rubin. [Bernard Rubin] Our subject for this program is television and children or children's television as F. Earle Barcus, one of our guests tonight entitled his new book which was just been published by Prager Publishers in New York. His co co-author is Rachel Wolkin of Action for Children's Television. It consists of a.. of a number of studies that Earle Barcus did for the organization Action for Children's Television. I guess it's fair to say, Earle that you are its chief researcher and a content analyzer of what goes on on
American television for that organization. My other guest is Roger Cowley, Associate Dean of our School of Public Communication and professor of communications. Earle, my first question is this. If you had to sum up what the impressions of television are as regards the effects on children from the research that you have contained in this rather mammoth study, what would they be, in gross terms, if you had...if you had to meet the unfair test of putting it in three conclusions because no one would give you more paper? [F. Earle Barcus] Yes well I'm not sure it's proper for me to talk about the--or summarize the effects of television on children because my study dealt primarily, not specifically, with the effects except in a inferential way, but primarily with the contents of children's
television. The intent of the studies that I have done working with Action for Children's Television is -- I describe in the book as a kind of an inventory of what's there. And these inventories I think are necessary, someone has called them social indicators. They're kind of an indicator of how we're doing from time to time in the media by, by doing fairly large studies of a large body of the content of the media to find out what proportions of this and that are being broadcast. I think once you do that then you can make certain kinds of inferences about how this might affect people. But to, to study effects directly I think you have to study the children themselves and I haven't been in that business so to speak. [Bernard Rubin] Well operating from the other angle, which is what I implied. Looking at what is presented to children, what are some of the trends that
you are happy or unhappy about? [F. Earle Barcus] OK. In the studies, and let me just summarize by saying that this book really resulted from a series of, of three different studies that were done in 1975-76. One of them was a study of Saturday and Sunday morning children's television. The ones that come primarily from the networks. Another study, a separate study, was what children are watching after school across the country and in that particular study I studied 10 different markets across the country, sampled for three hours after, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. and then a third study was to compare the Saturday morning programming by four different seasons, in other words one study done in April, one in November to see what kinds of changes. And there you see some of the major kinds
of shifts and changes. Now prior to this back in 1971 I had done some work also similar to this and I think some of the interesting trends can be seen by comparing what happened in 1971 with what's happening today or at least last year and there are some -- I suppose you can say there's some good news and there's some bad news. The amount of informational programming, for example, produced by the networks has increased considerably. Over the same period there have been pressures which has reduced the amount of advertising allowable to be broadcast to children. In 1971 you could broadcast 16 minutes out of every hour of commercial announcements to children. That was cut back by
1975, or December '75, that was cut back to nine and a half minutes per hour so there been some positive things. Now, there are some, also some remaining problems if you, to put it mildly, I suppose. That there is still a great deal of violence in the programme. There's still a great deal of advertising in the program. There is or there are messages for such things as sugared cereals. Really non-nutritional kinds of foods, snack foods and so forth which have been attacked by a number of groups including the dental associations and civic groups and so forth because these are simply not healthy for children. And not healthy for adults as far as that's-- [Rubin] Roger? [Collie] Yeah, the methodology that you employed is to tape or video tape programs off the air
and then do some of the coding while it was on the air and then go over the tapes supposedly with a fine tooth comb to to categorize things. [Barcus] That's correct. [Collie] One of the interesting things, kind of following on what you were talking about this moment, how do you code violence? You know, does Roadrunner running over the top of someone constitute violence or you know, just precisely, what were your categories in that area and how widespread would the agreement with your categorization of violence be, do you think, across the, the industry and other researchers? [Barcus] Right, I think my findings on violence, although not as detailed as some studies which have been directed specifically toward that aspect, my findings of violence are very consistent with George Gerbner's findings at the Annenberg School University of Pennsylvania and the whole technology or methodology of counting and analyzing violence
is not that difficult at all. You simply set up certain kinds of categories and if somebody gets hit over the head or run over by a car or whatever, dropped off a cliff, it's very easy to count these as violent acts. And that's one thing that really hasn't improved, I don't think at all, in children's television. You can-- I suppose some of the overt types of violence has changed. But in terms of total programming, Gerbner found that children's television was the most violent form of television going. The only objection to this has been made by ABC in studies in which they don't count cartoon violence as violence. They say "well if it's funny, you know, it doesn't count." [Rubin] That doesn't make, that doesn't make much sense because the children just, are just enraptured, as enraptured by cartoons as they are by any other form of visual presentation. They
don't get caught up in it because it is a motion picture or a cartoon. Do you agree with ABC? [Barcus] No not at all because I think the fact that it's humorous may make it even more attractive and one of the points I made in one of my studies was that it may be even more dangerous because nobody ever gets hurt. So someone the other day said the difference between the kind of violence that, that happened in Roots on television, the kind of violence that's happened throughout literature, is that when that kind of violence occurs it affects people. It's, you know, it's extremely harmful to them. They get hurt. They die, you know. But this doesn't happen on children's television. Nobody or hardly anyone dies. Very seldom do they get injured. So it's all a kind of a game. And I think the young child may not understand what that game is. [Rubin] Earle,
How, how do children see racial and social situations as depicted by children's television? I know some years ago the Mouseketeers for example as I recall there were no black Mouseketeers and they represented a cross-section of one element in our population. Do, are children better treated by presentations lately or in the last several years? [F. Earle Barcus] No. There seems to be some kind of a law and I don't know what to call it or where it comes from. Maybe it's just a social condition, in which if you analyze children's television, if you analyze adult television, if you analyze comic strips or comic books, short stories in magazines and so forth, you get roughly the same proportions of men and women, for example, male and female characters
and those proportions run something like 2 to 1 in favor of males in almost all these, and the same thing is true in the studies that I did of children's television. The ratios were a little over two to one male, as far as the characters in the program. When I studied the characters in the advertising it was slightly more than that. When I studied who the important characters were in the advertising it was about 9 to 1 in favor of males. So there's -- that's one example. [Rubin] And blacks and Chicanos and so on? [Barcus] Right, the under-representation of those is a, I think not a new story, but it exists and it, and it persists. And it's, I'm not quite sure what it takes to change that. But there is some kind of a law I believe which says "it's going to be about this proportion" until something drastic changes. [Rubin] Roger Cawley? [Cawley] Yeah, one of the things that interested me was you said you really didn't get into the children at all but in a way you did. And one of
the parts of your study that interested me was the problems that children have in handling the content of advertising. Supposedly some other studies, not yours, have shown that the child may be 12 or 13 before he really can comprehend what is going on in an ad, that something is trying to be sold to him. And it'd be very interesting to hear you delineate all the facets of advertising that are affecting children and they don't realize they're being affected, such as camera tricks that are making toys look like they can do things that they really can't do or the hyping of a, of a toy ad by the addition of sound effects. [Barcus] Right, I'm not sure we can cover all of those things but I can think of one pretty good example that came from some recent studies that have been done. One of the things that the N.A.B. requires or suggests,
I suppose, one of the guidelines is that advertisers use something they call disclaimers or positive disclosures and I think we've all seen these, these are things like batteries not included, or assembly required, so forth. They did a study of different age group children, say, first grade, third grade, fifth grade and so forth. And they presented these, these commercials to the children and then they asked questions like about "do you have to put it together" and things like that. And when the children saw this, it was printed on the screen and it was said verbally, says "assembly required." That's a, that's a disclosure which says you need to put this together. Less than 40 percent of third grade children understood that message. And I don't think, if I could editorial-- I don't think that's by accident. I think this is, this is a way to fulfill the letter of the
regulations of offering disclosures, knowing all the time perhaps that you know the child is not going to understand it. So they substituted something that says "you have to put it together yourself" instead of "assembly required." And that raised the proportion even among third graders from about 40 percent to 80 percent who understood after that was over that they had to put it together. Otherwise it's a, it's a kind of a subtle way of misleading. And the other things that Roger mentioned, there's an abundance of those. Some of them I think have been solved and others are still problems but things such as the lenses on cameras, which make things appear bigger, broader, higher, taller. The camera angle-- you can take a shot of a, of a six inch car or a 10 inch car immediately on a rug coming towards you and it
looks like a limousine, it looks you know, it looks very very impressive. And the question is and the evidence seems to be that children are not able at, at least up, like, third or fourth grade level. I'm not sure about that. They're not able to discount those things as presumably adults are supposed to be able to do, understand that there are such things as production techniques that make things look better so the children expect to get certain things that they don't get. [Bernard Rubin] Tell me how, how do children handle the commercial pitch? Now, It's almost axiomatic that even with the reduced commercialism enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, even though Spider-Man no longer can sell vitamins, he's got to either be Spider-Man or a vitamin, he can't be both, that children are, are urged
to eat certain junk foods sometimes posing as breakfast cereals, sometimes posing as hamburgers, sometimes posing as, as manipulations of potatoes and so on. From your own research are the children able to discriminate, are they able to protect themselves? Or is the fact of the matter that they are captured because they are captivated and they get hooked? [Barcus] Right, this goes really I think to the broader issue that perhaps you'd like to talk about a little bit. The broader issue I think is, is basically whether it is ethical, whether it's right to advertise to children to begin with. Whether it is -- whether a parent would, say, turn his child over to a salesman and say, "go ahead and try to sell him some."
And the basis for that I think is in a lot of other areas for -- in, in law we protect children, we protect children in terms of work laws, in terms of drinking laws, in terms of driving and a lot of kinds of things we have age limits in order to protect them. The question here is, the initial broadest question I think is whether it is, it is right to advertise to children to begin with. [Rubin] You're the expert, you've been studying more than anybody I know. What conclusions have you reached? [F. Earle Barcus] Well certainly I it would seem to me that the the, sort of the fundamental fact is that a child of 5 to 7, to 8 years old does not have the kind of discretionary income nor the mobility to go out and purchase products, toys that cost $12, $15 or so forth. If that
is true then the only reason for advertising to children is to get them to -- is to use them in effect to have their parents buy something. And that's, I think that's sort of one of the roots of the, the, the problem. The other is at what age does a child begin to discriminate and can he understand consumer information, you know, sales pitches about the product? So that, I think, is, is the first problem is really whether it is ethical to do that. The second problem I think is once you've made that decision, "well, you can sell to children then," I think the problem is, well, what kinds of things can you sell? Obviously even for adults you don't sell certain things on television, you don't sell cigarettes, you don't sell liquor, you know.
Now for children is it all right to sell medicine? Well, that's been fairly well settled. They don't, they don't sell vitamins anymore in children's television. Another question would come up with other kind of products such as, as we mentioned before, sugared, sugared foods. Some of the cereals that are on the market today are more -- over 50 percent sugar. These are so-called parts of a balanced breakfast. [Bernard Rubin] You're not saying that the other 50 percent is cardboard, I hope. [Barcus] No, it's, there's some grains in there and some fibers and some other things. But, but that's an awfully, awfully large figure. And if you, if you, I think, continue to say to the child, you know, "eat this you'll be healthy, you have a balanced meal." He's learning something about, about eating habits so there's a, there's a good-- it's, it's very possible that a case could be made that, that these highly sugared products
are detrimental to children's health just as much as smoking is detrimental adult's health or vitamins are dangerous to advertise because of abuses and, and so forth. So if you're going to advertise to children then you have to make some hard decisions about what kinds of products are fair, what kind of products are not fair to advertise. And then the third set of problems that Roger brought up while ago was if you're going to do both of those things then how are you going to do it? What kinds of techniques can you use? Is it permissible to use the standard, you know, somewhat misleading production techniques for children as used for adults? And so forth. One of the practices we didn't mention which is very effective for young children is use of premiums and I think most parents have probably gone through the grocery store and as the child has said something about, "I want, I want this cereal." "Why?" "Because it has a car in it," or has a premium of some sort and studies have been done, I read a study
just last week that there are two main reasons that the parents -- well, put it this way. A large majority of parents say that their child has asked them to buy something for them in the store. Of those who said that their children had asked them to buy it and they bought it, the reason they bought it was one, they saw it on TV. And two, it was a premium in the box. [Roger Cawley] You know one startling piece of datum that you included in your book, and I speak as a parent of a 2 year old and a 4 year old. They haven't discovered Saturday and Sunday morning television yet and we're trying to keep them from that. But the surprising piece of datum was that the average price or the median price of a toy advertised on television was about 11 bucks. And if you include the extras that would add at least another dollar to it. A frightening amount of money that kids are getting indirectly pressured into having their parents spend for them.
[Barcus] Right and the, that's an average figure. Some of them are lot larger than that. One of the, one of the things that they're doing now in terms of toy, toy advertising, and incidentally this, this goes up to something in the order of between 40 and 50 percent of all advertising in November, right before the Christmas season or during the Christmas season. But the -- what they do of course is advertise a lot of products all in the same commercial so if you add up everything shown you might get a price of forty, fifty dollars or something like that to buy one toy when presumably all you're showing is a doll, but the doll is not very much good without the trampoline, without the other equipment and the house that goes with it, and the car, or whatever. So the child's going to be pretty disappointed if he gets a naked doll with no clothes, with no accessories, anything else, just a doll.
[Cawley] Another interesting aspect that you looked into was in addition to commercial advertising you also included noncommercial advertising. What sort of public service announcements, as they're sometimes called, are kids exposed to? [F. Earle Barcus] Well I can't remember exactly the figures but a lot of these noncommercial announcements are, are for the standard organizations that you would expect, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and so forth. But there are occasionally some very strange sort of adult public service announcements, to adults, I should say, asking for donations to the Cancer Society and things that children probably don't understand a lot about. Is that what you're referring to? [Cawley] Using the-- [Barcus] I think that problem needs to be looked at along with all the others that we've talked about. [Rubin] Under the presumption that there lurks a boy behind every
man, including professors, having studied so much by observing and counting, doing content analysis on children's television, this may be the first time this question has been asked of such a learned gentleman but F. Earle Barcus, what's the children's television programming that you like best? [Barcus] What do I like best? Oh, that's a good question. I can't even remember much of it because it all becomes a kind of a blur before me. I know there are some good programs on and I, I resp--, I respect those, Bill Cosby's program is very very good. Harlem Globe Trotters, I don't know if you've seen these or not, it's called the Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, I, I think. [Rubin] I confess I haven't but go on. [Barcus] And, uh -- [Cawley] Big Blue Marble was a good one. [Barcus] Big Blue Marble. The, I mean, I think there's no question about if you want to ask me what do I think are the best children's programs on the air, I would have to say they're probably those programs that have nothing to do
with the commercial television networks that I studied. They have to do with public television. They're Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. And those are proven by popularity, by expert opinion and everything else to be excellent programs for children. [Rubin] Has there been a burst like the burst of money being spent by foundations and others to produce Sesame Street and The Electric Company? Has there been some new wrinkle that, that they are pointing with pride to in the industry or are they replaying Mr. Rogers when they want to show what they can do? [Barcus] There's none that I know of that -- not, nothing vastly different on the horizon that I know of. I think I'll probably this fall again study the new season to see what the new programs are and what kinds of basic changes are made. As I said there has been some -- a
little bit more in the way of informational programming which I think is good, went like from 10 percent to 15 percent or something like that. [Roger Cowley] In the introduction and conclusion of the book, Rachel Wolkin was I guess the chief counsel as it were for Action for Children's Television, makes a very strong case for banning commercials from children's television entirely. Do you think this is a draconian action or do you think it's, based on your studies, an action that probably should be taken? [F. Earle Barcus] A.C.T did support another study by William Melody which, which showed that it's possible over a period of years to phase out advertising on children's television. As a matter of fact when I said -- I said earlier they had reduced the total permissible time for advertising. Just last year the FCC's economic adviser found that
the networks had actually increased their revenues in spite of this so-called reduction in advertising. So they're not hurting on that score. [Rubin] And, and you would be in favor of a general curtailing of advertising to children or very young children? [F. Earle Barcus] Yes I would. [Bernard Rubin] Is there much unanimity in the field on that by socially aware people? [Barcus] I think there is, I think the ACT, Action for Children's Television is one good example of it. The problem is simply one problem of pressures, the industry is not particularly interested in doing anything about it. The government has dragged their heels a little bit so that the bulk of the the responsibility lies on groups like A.C.T. and interested parents to, try to put pressure on them to do-- [Rubin] Well as we make up our minds I think a good source of data would be your new book which is just published this year by Praeger called Children's Television: An Analysis of Programming and Advertising.
F. Earle Barcus with Rachel Wolkin. I want to thank you Earle Barcus and I want to thank you Roger Cowley for being on the program now. This is Bernard Rubin saying good night. [music] WGBH radio in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic Communications at the School of Communications at Boston University has presented the First Amendment and a Free People, an examination of civil liberties and the media in the 1970s. This program was produced in the studios of WGBH Boston.
The First Amendment
Children's Television
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Episode Description
On this episode of The First Amendment and a Free People, Dr. Bernard Rubin talks with F. Earle Barcus about his recent book on the state of childrens television. Barcus, a researcher, discusses his findings and his opinions on the effects of advertising on children.
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"The First Amendment is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Bernard Rubin, the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication at Boston University. Each episode features a conversation that examines civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. "
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Guest: Barcus, F. Earle
Host: Rubin, Bernard
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: 77-0165-06-11-001 (WGBH Item ID)
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Chicago: “The First Amendment; Children's Television,” 1977-06-02, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
MLA: “The First Amendment; Children's Television.” 1977-06-02. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <>.
APA: The First Amendment; Children's Television. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from