From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Coalition challenges Disney/ABC
20 May 1996 14:41:32
Here is a press release on UCC action protesting the
Sept. 28, 1995
Office of Communication
United Church of Christ
Hans Holznagel, press contact
Center for Media Education
UCC on the World Wide Web:
Public interest coalition challenges Disney/ABC merger; groups
call for more educational children's programming
CLEVELAND -- In a move aimed at securing better children's
television, a coalition of public interest groups is challenging
the Walt Disney Company's acquisition of the Capital Cities/ABC
television network. Led by the Cleveland-based Office of
Communication of the United Church of Christ and the Washington,
D.C.-based Center for Media Education, the coalition today
(Sept. 28) is filing a petition with the Federal Communications
Commission to deny the transfer.
The church agency and its partners argue that the
Disney/ABC deal has large public interest detriments and
contradicts policies designed to foster diversity of media
ownership. To offset the substantial loss in diversification,
the public interest coalition is asking that Disney increase the
amount of educational children's programming ABC provides to its
network affiliates and owned stations. The coalition is also
urging Disney to schedule these educational programs after 7
a.m. so that children will have the opportunity to see them.
On mega-deals of this size, the parties must demonstrate
to the FCC that the transfer of control is in the public
interest. In making its decision, the commission looks at past
performance and future promises. The transfer request must
undergo especially close scrutiny when companies seek waivers of
existing ownership restrictions. The detriment to
diversification can be overcome by a showing of extraordinary
benefits to the public.
The groups are calling on Disney to demonstrate its
commitment to serve the public interest by providing more
educational programming for children on its new network. "What
we're asking Disney to do in its new capacity as a broadcast
network," explained Dr. Kathryn Montgomery, CME president, "is
to play a major leadership role in developing and airing more
programs which harness the enormous power of television as a
positive educational force in children?s lives." Added Dr.
Beverly J. Chain, the UCC's former director of communications,
"Given its prominence as a creator of children's entertainment,
Disney has the resources and experience to develop a substantial
amount of core children's television programming which not only
entertains, but is specifically designed to educate and inform.
The benefits to the public interest would be huge."
The Children's Television Act of 1990 requires that all
television stations, as a condition of license renewal, air
programming that is specifically designed to serve the
informational and educational needs of children. But the
television industry response to the law has been weak, prompting
the Federal Communications Commission to institute a rulemaking
procedure to strengthen the implementation rules.
"By assuming control of one of the most powerful
television networks in this country, Disney will be in an
important leadership position to improve television's inadequate
record in serving the needs of children," explained Chain.
"Unfortunately, on the one broadcast TV station it owns,
Disney's response to the Children?s Television Act has been
According to the petition, Disney-owned KCAL (Channel 9)
in Los Angeles responded initially to the mandate of the
Children's Television Act by airing only a single half-hour
educational program for children at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday
mornings for the first year after the law took effect. In the
wake of Congressional and FCC pressure on the industry, KCAL
added some new educational programs for children, but the
petition noted that most of them are scheduled in the early
morning hours before 7 a.m., when only a tiny fraction of the
child audience is watching television. "We know Disney can do
better," said Chain, adding that the company also distributes
the children's science series, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on
both public and commercial television.
A commitment for more educational programming would be
especially important, observed Montgomery, in light of the TV
violence study recently released by UCLA, which revealed a
disturbing trend toward increasingly violent children's programs
on the four major networks. "By making more educational
programming available to children during the hours when they
watch, the networks can give parents an alternative to the
murder and mayhem that dominate the airwaves."
Disney is asking the FCC to waive its rules governing
multiple ownership of media properties in the same market. ABC
owns two radio stations and a daily newspaper in Fort Worth,
Texas. It also owns radio stations in Detroit, Mich., and a
paper in Pontiac, Mich. (in the same signal area as the
stations). Disney is asking for a permanent waiver of the FCC
rule which forbids a radio or TV broadcaster to own a newspaper
in the same market and provides that when an owner of broadcast
and newspaper properties in the same locality sells them, the
properties must go to different people. "These waiver requests
constitute a serious detriment to the diversification policy
embodied in the regulations and thus to the public interest,"
the petition states, arguing that Disney?s showing for retaining
this proscribed cross-ownership is patently inadequate. In Los
Angeles, the country's second largest TV market, the new company
would control two VHF TV stations for up to 18 months (or
possibly longer), which also is prohibited under current rules.
In the Disney-ABC petition, the Office of Communication
and the Center for Media Education are joined by the Alliance
for Public Technology; the Rev. Everett C. Parker, a longtime
public interest advocate who now teaches at Fordham University;
and a number of individuals.
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