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The First Amendment and the Free People Weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s produced by WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Reuben. With me I'm very happy to say for this edition is Peggy Charen the founder of Action for Children's Television. You don't have to tell you too much about Action for Children's Television except that as you all know it has been one of the most important reforming agencies in the medium doing what it can to protect people before they reach the age of maturity. It ought to protect people of all ages I keep telling Peggy Charen that because the work is so good. My first question Peggy is this is just 10 years since you started this work and what a magnificent 10 years it has been. You appear before the Federal Communications Commission the Federal Trade Commission. You were notable for
us movie stars appear on your in saying that we ought to back up programming that is good for children. You fight against bad advertising and so on. Do you ever worry that after 10 years you are now part of the establishment with people accepting you as they do all other aspects of the establishment. I think maybe you have a prejudiced view of how many people accept us. Maybe it's because I spend so much of my time reading broadcasting magazine editorials which I find don't except act at all. And and we're encouraged by that. I think we would we would feel it was a disaster if Broadcasting which has very good news columns but tends to have a rather conservative approach to. So you feel like you're still on the cutting edge of every That's right. And I think that the minute that that act felt that it wasn't it would look for something else to do it maybe even go out of business. In fact there's a lot of business that still needs taken care of and we now have two petitions before two regulatory agencies the Federal
Trade Commission has instituted a rule making procedure that will take two years at least and will probably end up in the courts if the industry doesn't bring it to the courts probably we will because it certainly isn't going to make both of us happy at the same time. We have a petition before the Federal Communications Commission which we understand is going to mean that our inquiry into children's television at the FCC is going to be reopened. That's. Both of these actions by the regulatory agencies are I think because they have new Cham. We're embarking on what we hope is seven years of good luck. After sort of seven years of plague brought about in part by a previous administration's appointments to the regulatory agencies we we look for change from the agencies because that's the appropriate place to get change from broadcasting Fortunately we don't have to go to Congress and the commissions have been influenced for seven years now by an administration that
didn't seem to put the needs of the audience first. Aren't you always in an uphill battle by virtue of the nature of our broadcasting industry aside from Public Radio and Public Television. Most of the industry is supported by commercial contributions which provide for the advertising and here you come along and say that there is too much violence or too much of this or that on the television. Don't you run up against the article that some of these things that you complain about in the opinion of an advertising agency people sells products and therefore they are constantly plugging in a new problem for you as you attack successfully on the old one. Well I think that's not as much of a problem as it sounds like because in fact we don't attack violence per se. We attack something that that really has more of an effect on the bottom line than programme content which is the commercials themselves. We when we first checked with the system to find out why there was no diversity we discovered that the the reason for a
constant barrage of the same kind of programming directed to children was because the commercials were trying to attract the largest share of that two to 11 year old market to that commercial message. And in the effort to increase diversity we decided the proper goal was to eliminate the advertising to make it easier for the broadcaster to put the needs of children before the needs of General Foods. We had almost a heretical society. I think it may have been when we started it's amazing how what was thought of in 1968 69 70 as as a utopian idea from a bunch of citizens parents who didn't understand the way the world works in terms of economics has come to be accepted as a at least a rational goal. If not if not a reasonable one from the point of view
of the networks. But in fact the reduction in advertising time which the network screamed about as loud as they screamed about an elimination has meant only that the broadcasters are making more money not less from children's television. All they did was raise the price of the commercials so that we managed to get 40 percent less advertising directed to children on weekend mornings at the same time filling the coffers of the of the industry with greater profits in fact it was an FCC economist who did the research that led us to be able to make the statement. Now it's exposition that you can reduce those number of minutes still further and still not have a bad impact on profits of course our ultimate goal is to. It is to cause children's television to be a public service responsibility of the broadcaster on that last point. I imagine that one of the most significant things that you've done lately is to bring to the public attention to argue for the position
that children cannot take some of these ads that the ads are much more sophisticated in the children's minds or experience can absorb and that it is notoriously unfair to use the skills of Madison Avenue in certain ways against children I think this is I may be incorrect but this is what I sense as your basic position arguing before the Federal Trade Commission. That's that's a good analysis of what the commission is looking into now except that I think what they're concentrating on is the deception involved in selling to young children but the children don't know whether to do it. You know the truth. That's right because of the way they perceive it it's relatively easy to teach a child not to touch a hot stove. You hope that the first time they do it in a kind of grin the hand-off. But once they do they appreciate that hot means stay away. It's more difficult to teach a child not to eat a lot of candy as well though the FDA has said that sticky sugar between meals is the most caring genic substance you can put in your mouth and that means
cavity producing. That's a nice word for cavities or really serious dental problems. And it's hard to teach them that too many candy buzz means maybe a cavity by the age of 10 or 12 or 13 that the too much sugar and too much sticky sugar means that you're not eating enough good foods. So maybe your you won't grow up to be as healthy and strong as people who eat less candy. And that by age 40 or 50 you might be more likely to have a heart attack. Those are the kinds of things that very young children can't really absorb easily and all this advertising for foods that we think sold to adults are perfectly reasonable the adult with the let the buyer beware philosophy manages in other areas. Salesmanship we think that it is deceptive to the child because the child doesn't appreciate all the factors involved in that sales pitch. You're in an adversarial situation with the senator a senator one of the two
from Connecticut law Weicker and to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson Lowell Weicker might say if I had my choice between adults growing up from their childhood period without a tooth in their head because of all the sugar that was given to them or that they wanted to eat and candy and cereals due to the advertising on television and radio or the First Amendment unsullied by anybody interfering with the right to present ideas I would take the people without any teeth in their head. What's your answer to his general view that any attempt by the Federal Trade Commission to go into this area is an invasion of the American way under our Constitution. Well I think that that I and I have a sincere concern for the first amendment as does Senator Weicker. It's a question of interpretation. The way we understand it the First Amendment does not protect the deceptive advertising of commercial products commercial speech for
products cannot be deceptive. The First Amendment does not protect that even for adults. Indeed the FTC is obligated to answer exactly. That's exactly right. And what Senator Weicker said when he exploded at the new chairman of the FTC was that it was a waste of the taxpayers money. In fact I read recently that the dental bills have reached the proportion of seven billion dollars in this country and that is just one economic aspect of causing cavities from sugar. Sugar presumably leads to obesity which is responsible for a lot of other health problems in this country. If we could handle those I venture to say that the small amount of money spent for the FTC proceeding would be not even worth considering. From an economic What would you do though if the companies answered by not being deceptive at all by actually coming out blatantly and saying in their advertising Now this may cause your teeth to rot away or something that something less flagrant. And then continue to portray the beauties of this
particular of that particular product laden with sugar aimed at the children under the age of 9 or 10. I think that it's an interesting question but it would never happen because the reason that up to 700 million dollars is spent to sell to very young children in this country is because it works but doesn't happen on cigarette containers where they have the little statement that our cigarettes are sold every right I think that's different and I think in the case of cigarettes I would have been for keeping cigarette messages on television and keeping the counter commercials on television too figuring that adults should be able to deal with the fact that there are two points of view presented and be able to make a choice. In fact now what they're getting is one point of view we're not getting the counter message which is why cigarette sales are going up when it comes to young children however they can believe two contradictory sets of information at the same time. And they could hear that that sugar causes cavities and America is wonderful because it lasts a good long time believe both sets of
things and want the marathon. Now we don't think that that's reasonable when it comes to young children. You're up against the most powerful in terms of finances conglomerates ever put together. And there's the sugar manufacturers who sell their wares in terms of breakfast cereals and candies of one kind or another. This is a very powerful organization are you going to win. We think we're going to win. We're not sure exactly what we're going to when we don't know what the rule is going to be that the commission comes up with. Eventually the Federal Trade the Federal Trade Commission and what the courts are going to say about that. But we think that there are there are going to be some rules suggested and we think that the whole process is what is going to help to make change. In fact that's where we think that Senator Weicker has his First Amendment all inside out. What he's trying to do is stop the public particularly one part of the public the the people versus the industrial establishment and the the the companies represented by those
lobbies that got to him or they didn't get to him they certainly got to his colleagues that he was trying to stop a process from happening which gives access to opinions that he was trying to stop people from opening their mouths and for him to attack the Federal Trade Commission rule making procedure on the basis of the First Amendment is a travesty because what they were doing is for the first time giving the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the nutritionists and dentists and parents all the people who wanted to open their mouth on this issue publicly and in a public forum a chance to do so. Go project. That's right you should see Michael perching and his colleague and his colleague now he wants to hold a long series of meetings to investigate. Let's just let everybody have their say and Weicker says I won't support the granting of money for that exactly. Now for him to say that I don't really like the idea of a rule is his prerogative. In fact I'm not sure that all the Cham and all the commission is who voted to initiate a rule making
procedure really want a rule at the moment. We hope that the case that is provided by all this dialog is going to convince them that a rule is necessary. But at least they want to hold a procedure a rule making procedure and for the senator to use the First Amendment to invoke doing away with that procedure is preposterous we find this is been an education for Act because it's the first time that we saw the whole power of the industrial lobbies the sugar lobby and the cereal lobby and the broadcasting lobby which is very powerful because the implication when broadcasters are upset is that when you Congressman want to run for Congress you may find it harder to get on our airwaves. And as we all know the limited access to air waves is one of the problems in the. In this country and access or lack of access to those airwaves certainly has an effect on who gets elected to political office. Now Peggy Charen founder of action for job or television. You have managed to avoid
many pitfalls many Krib asses in your 10 years. First place you avoided the pitfall of becoming just a flash in the pan of being known for some things and then disappearing in the second place. You grew beyond the the the movement stage lots of movements have come and gone. But Action for Children's Television is very vigorous and in the third place you have stuck to the to the last providing data information research rather than merely opinion so you present briefs to the Federal Trade Commission the Federal Communications Commission and when called upon you act as responsible spokespeople. Why so many don't consider that a commercial. Well Public Broadcasting. Well let me let me just let me just lead up to this. Looking back on the 10 years and realizing that the major Valley that
you may fall into is just ahead. What are some of the things that you want to do. What did you learn from the allies 10 years. Well we've learned that the the problem that we're focusing on as an organization which is a very narrow problem is the child's television viewing experience. We don't think that all the ills of family life are based on Television. I was asked a question recently about the effect of television on juvenile crime. I think it would be a crime if television were blamed for juvenile crime in this country. Crime is the result of living conditions of poverty of the way we treat families of the kinds of monies that are available to equalize some kinds of living conditions in the society of housing of all kinds of problems. And I don't think that television should be blamed for all of society's ills. I in no way think this exonerates the broadcaster from using public airwaves to serve the public interest but you have to be careful how much you put into television. However the child's
viewing experience is a significant part now of growing up a child watches on average 25 hours a week of television which we think is too much even too much even of good television even too much public television and certainly public TV provides a number of alternatives for the concerned parent who's looking for a productive experience for her child or his job. We think that there's going to be a need to continue to provide information about this experience if not to government then to parents if not to parents than to teachers. There is no focusing on these needs. Particularly we think that the technology is going to change but that the problem of children being involved with media is going to stay there. It's a very attractive mechanism for a child to attract a child's time. And we think that the situation can improve but there's going to be a need for someone to say
to to parents turn off the set some time and go for a walk play Monopoly read talk to say the teaches that we can turn children into into critical view was of television or whatever the technology comes to provide so that they learn how to write a television review that's as meaningful as the book reviews that we've learned to write in school. And to say to broadcast is that just because you have all those channels doesn't mean you should keep providing more of the same kinds of material. Here where is the programming for the handicapped for the Native American for the small audience is that the technology means we can now serve more easily. Well I thought that was what I was leading up to now. Action for responsible television is not your name but responsible television for old people for the handicapped for minority Americans for people who cannot turn on the set and get any classroom instruction no matter how many hours they look. Doesn't it really come to you as a as an
important thought that maybe you ought to move that you have a responsibility to move beyond that your success should propel you not away from children but into the areas where people need spokes organizations. We think that one organization can only do so much but it's amazing how much you can think of through working with the idea of children. We we grew a little bit this year because our conference in Washington focused on the needs of young adolescents. The 10 to 15 year old we recognized that people don't stay 11 forever. This is Peter Pan ville in America. And that when you get to be 12 13 14 and you're looking for four creative strategies in how to choose who you're going to be and what you're going to be. Television provides very few of those. It is still. Even racist certainly sexist and and provides very few role models that are meaningful for young people. So we said that out loud a little bit. We don't want the government making rules about that but we certainly want the
broadcasters looking at television from the point of view of a 13 or 14 year old. What do you find when you go overseas and meet with colleagues who are examining these questions. What do they do that we ought to do. Well one thing they do that we can't do at this point in this country is they have much less television so that you're much less likely to get a child watching so much or a young person being as involved in television because it doesn't go on say until five o'clock in the afternoon for example. And and that's extremely It may not be constructive to the exchange of information in a civilized society but it certainly is constructive in terms of how much time you spend in front of the set which is a major problem for America's young children. They also in most countries consider the children as something special. And certainly in the programs that are directed to children they may run the risk of being boring but they don't run the risk of being damaging. They rarely permit advertising directed right to the child and I feel that's the only advertising worth worrying about.
Most children do not ask for shampoo before they turn 13. I mean there are there were rules of the marketplace that govern who asks for what. And so countries other than America really advertise to young very young children. There is except for certain countries like like England and there were others. There was less programming and this doesn't always work to the advantage of the audience. We think we're fortunate in this country we have some very good programming and it doesn't all come from public television. The to use children again and the afterschool specials are as good programming as there is on television. And we think that there's a real need to direct parents or people who care about children to some of the more appropriate more delightful things that are available. And that's certainly not a broadcaster's problem. And some of this is more delightful and exciting than some of the stuff that's available around the world particularly in
undeveloped countries where they're just beginning to reach for what can and in most cases they mean teach not just reach. They're citizens they're worrying about literacy and the ability to make voting decisions because there is so little information I heard as part of the Carnegie Commission on the future of public broadcasting meeting this week I heard someone from the bush country of Alaska talk about the role the public radio in Alaska and you realize that even in America we have areas where where radio and in this case public radio is playing the role of a newspaper and the post man and neighborhood and invitations to parties and what's available as wanted. There was no way of communication and there were no roads and so even here in a typical Metropolitan Community typical in this sense a radio is an abuse resource an unused resource. Have you thought of moving into this area of using radio.
Well what's very nice is that the the Carnegie Commission is worried about radio as part of its responsibilities to think about the future of tell everybody's worried about radios since Frida had not worried about radio and television. You 946 in the Bluebook but radio is such a desert. Without at least without question at least 100 years I would say that that is a condemnation rather than praise because if you can point out what it has in the general morass of what is programmed on every station. I think it's just shocking that we don't use radio. This is. Good I guess that I am a magazine freak. Part of me my life is devoted to making big piles of magazines in my house that I feel I'm never going to get to. And I'm also radio not. I love the radio. I'm glad to be on the radio this minute and I think that this particular station. It's unfortunate to talk about what radio isn't doing because all things considered is my favorite magazine of the.
Yeah well it is mine too but I would say even if you took this station. It's. It's not healthy enough in its radio programming in public affairs and in many other areas and this is the best of the litter. Well well the satellite the fact that public broadcasting has put up a satellite which makes for channels available for programs at the same time available to public broadcasting is a big step forward all we need now is for public broadcasting stations in each community of the country to receive those for enjoyment you need creative people too. Again I don't want to guild the lily but one of the things I've noticed watching you over the 10 years is that whenever there was a temptation to sink into some kind of a generalization or into something just flamboyant for its own sake you have avoided it. And that is why you are a reputable spokes person for for the movement for better broadcasting. Shouldn't we move you on to these new areas for the next 10 years and say devote your time to that. I have a better idea Bernie we're going to move you into a consumer group and let you do it.
All right I'll take you up on that. What else did that. Did you want to do in the next 10 years that you really felt in the last two moments of this program. We are known. I think that. I think you brought up a good point and that is creativity that one of the problems is if we decide that people deserve creative delightful programming we have to think of ways to let creative delightful program as independent produces and groups all over the country make good programming and we have to think of where we're going to get the money to do it. We have the technology now with the cassette revolutions writing television mini radio. We need the money and we need the time and the place to develop the people who can do all that wonderful Can we turn away. Can we turn our minds away from the theatricals of our daily lives to really concentrate on basic programming instead of getting caught up in what is tinsel. Oh I think so. When I think that's what you mean by my creative talent they turned the
everyday life into the program that's exciting to watch. Is our job or born again hopefully ruthlessly or giving away how overbearing as if they were. Yes well I read about all of them. Thanks a lot. Along with you. Well it's been an absolutely delightful Peggy churn to talk again with you. Lots of luck with your actions that you're going to television for this edition. Bernie driven. The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the program was produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University by WGBH radio Boston which is solely responsible for its cause. This is the station program exchange.
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The First Amendment
Childrens Television
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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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