The Three Hour Rule

by Alec Rudolph, Paul DiPasqua, and Drew Pearson

Because the learning processes inherent in public broadcasting play a crucial role in the development of knowledge and participation in citizenship, children’s programming has been subject to multiple rules and regulations over the last few decades.

Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States has been in place since the Communications act of 1934, the Children’s Television Act (CTA) of 1990 marks the first time that children’s television became specifically regulated.

The CTA was met with much displeasure from parents and children’s advocacy groups, as well as broadcasters, after it was unanimously passed and enacted in 1990. Broadcasters were uncertain how to respond to the demand that they serve “the educational and informational needs of children”, causing parents and children’s advocacy groups to be upset at broadcasters.

The rules on children’s programming that the FCC has adopted range from weekly scheduled core programming, to commercial time limits during shows aimed at children under 12 years old, to sex-role stereotyping in programs that have an effect on children’s understanding and development of sex roles. But there is also the “Three-Hour Rule” — broadcasters must air at least three hours of educational television for children per week in order for the FCC to renew their license — which is part of a 1996 mandate. This regulation was unanimously passed by the FCC, and is originally a part of the 1990 CTA. However, the mandate set a hourly quota for stations serving educational and informational needs of children.

In order to counter many stations that were airing dubious cartoons as “educational programming”, or educational programming during early morning hours, the new preemption rule tightens the definition of educational programming as programming scheduled to air once per week at the least and must also air on an ordinary basis.

The idea of this rule implemented by the FCC is that exposure to educational television would prevent the children from going brain dead from watching television purely for their entertainment. And the new additions such as the preemption rule ensured that children would be exposed to educational television at some point during the week.

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