Vice President Al Gore urged GOP presidential challenger Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to join other members of Congress on Monday in supporting a plan to make television broadcasters air three hours per week of educational programs for children.
The Clinton administration strongly supports the plan, pending before the Federal Communications Commission. The plan grew out of a 1990 law that in part requires TV stations to air programs meeting children’s information and education needs as a condition for license renewal. Cable TV is not covered.
Gore, speaking to the convention of the National Cable Television Association, challenged all Congress members to sign a letter supporting the three-hour requirement. The letter has more than 100 lawmakers’ support.
But in issuing the challenge, Gore said there are a “few signatures that are especially conspicuous in their absence.” He singled out Dole, R-Kan., and Gingrich, R-Ga.
“Where is Newt? … Or what about Bob?” Gore asked.
“How can you lament murder and mayhem in movies you’ve never seen, and then turn around and vigorously oppose the v-chip and do nothing to improve the television our children watch every day,” Gore said.
Last year, Dole and Gingrich voted against a provision now included in a new telecommunications law that would require new TV sets to have a special chip that would allow viewers to block out shows electronically rated for violent, sexual and other objectionable content. Dole also condemned the media and entertainment industries for glamorizing violence.
Gore praised the cable industry for taking what he called a leading role against TV violence early on, for airing educational shows for children and for moving toward connecting the nation’s classrooms to cable television for free.
On children’s television, Gore noted that cable networks contribute more than 80 percent of all TV hours to programs specifically devoted to children. “That’s quite a record,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Gore urged broadcasters in a speech to an industry convention in Las Vegas to reverse course and support the three-hour children’s program requirement at the FCC.
The requirement is supported by FCC Chairman Reed Hundt but lacks the support of the FCC commission majority necessary for the plan’s enactment.
Gore talked about the promise of the new telecommunications law freeing cable and local and long-distance telephone companies to compete in each other’s businesses. He also warned the cable industry to act responsibly in keeping subscription rates in check after deregulation and in pricing new services like high-speed Internet access.
The new law deregulates most cable rates in three years or sooner if a telephone company competes in a local market against a cable company for cable customers.
NCTA President Decker Anstrom, who welcomed Gore’s remarks, also is urging the industry to restrain cable prices after they are deregulated.
“We must not repeat the mistakes” the industry made with rate gouging and shoddy customer service in the 1980s, which led Congress to impose price restrictions in 1992. “We will not get another chance” with customers, Anstrom said.
And as cable competes against telephone and direct-broadcast satellite providers in its core business and goes up against entrenched competitors in new business like telephone and computer services, customer service becomes even more crucial, top cable executives said.