Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Rethinking the Children's Television Act for a Digital Media Age

July 22, 2009

Television is a powerful force in children’s lives.
Children in America typically watch between two and four hours of television every day. By the time they begin the first grade, they have spent what amounts to three school years in front of the television set.
Let me be clear: When used for good, television programming can enlighten, entertain, and even teach. 
But when used for less noble purposes, it can expose children to indecent, graphic, and violent content. This can have a coarsening effect on our children—and on our culture. 
We have a right to be concerned. 
This is why nearly twenty years ago Congress enacted the Children’s Television Act.
This law reduced the commercialization of children’s programming. It also created a market for more quality educational and informational programming for our youngest viewers.   
These are good things. These are policies we still want to promote. And these are values we still hold dear today. 
But our media landscape has changed dramatically during the last two decades.
So we have a challenge. How do we take these values and apply them to the very different media universe our children know today? 
A world where televisions are only part of the media mix.  A world where the television screen is fast fusing with the computer screen. Where cable channels have multiplied and young people view programming over their mobile phones. 
The way I see it, there are two needs here. 
First, there is a need to provide quality media content for children. 
Second, there is a need to protect our children from harmful content. 
To provide and protect. We must have both.
This is what the Committee would like to explore today.  How well the Children’s Television Act has worked, and how it can be updated to reflect the new digital media market.
If we value what our children read, see, and hear, we need to hold discussions like this. 
If we respect parents and their need for tools to help monitor their children’s viewing, we need to hold discussions like this. 
And if we believe there is some content that is simply not suitable for children, we need to hold discussions like this. 
Finally, it will come as no surprise to anyone in this room that I continue to have grave concerns about violence and indecency in the media. I continue to believe that programming with gratuitous sex and excessive violence harms our children and demeans our culture.     
But this is not the central focus of today’s hearing. So let us now begin by identifying how we can work together to improve programming for children. 
So thank you to our witnesses for your willingness to be a part of this dialogue—and thank you for your efforts to provide quality content for our youngest viewers.