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Public Papers - 1990

Statement on the Children's Television Act of 1990


I have decided to withhold my approval from H.R. 1677, the ``Children's Television Act of 1990,'' which will result in its becoming law without my signature. This bill is intended to increase the amount and quality of children's television programming and to diminish the commercialization of programming for children.

I wholeheartedly support these goals, but regret that the Congress has chosen inappropriate means of serving them. In an effort to improve children's television, this legislation imposes content-based restrictions on programming. The legislation limits the amount of advertising that broadcasters may air during children's programming, and the Federal Communications Commission is charged with policing the adequacy of broadcasters' efforts to serve the educational and informational needs of children. The First Amendment, however, does not contemplate that government will dictate the quality or quantity of what Americans should hear -- rather, it leaves this to be decided by free media responding to the free choices of individual consumers.

I recognize that the Supreme Court has upheld the application of certain content-based regulations to broadcast licensees, on the theory that the ``scarcity of broadcast frequencies'' makes government involvement inevitable. Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367 (1969). Whatever validity this analysis may have been thought to have some 2 decades ago, its factual premise has been eroded by the proliferation of new video services that supplement those provided by traditional broadcasters. Accordingly, a constitutional challenge to this legislation may provide the Supreme Court with an occasion to reconsider its decision in Red Lion.

I also have very strong reservations about the legislation's application of quantitative advertising restrictions to cable operators. Red Lion's ``technological scarcity'' theory does not apply to cable service, which should be considered analogous to the print media under the First Amendment. Even under the commercial speech doctrine, I do not believe that quantitative restrictions on advertising should be considered permissible when applied either to newspapers or to cable operators.

Finally, the advertising limits imposed by this legislation cannot reasonably be expected to advance their intended purpose. To the extent that children's programming is financed by the revenue from advertising during such programming, restrictions on the amount of advertising will tend to diminish, rather than enhance, the quantity and quality of children's programming.

George Bush

The White House,

October 17, 1990.

Note: H.R. 1677 became law on October 18, upon the expiration of the 10-day period allowed for Presidential action, and was assigned Public Law No. 101 - 437.

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