Memorandum of Disapproval on a Bill Concerning Children's Television
I am withholding my approval of H.R. 3966, the "Children's Television Act of 1988." This bill would limit the amount of advertising during children's television programs to between 10 1/2 and 12 minutes per hour. It would also require the Federal Communications Commission, when reviewing an application for renewal of a television broadcast license, to consider whether the broadcaster has "served the educational and informational needs of children in its overall programming."
This Administration has firmly supported the reestablishment of government and private sector policies sensitive to the needs of children and of the family. While I applaud efforts to increase the amount and quality of children's television programming, the Constitution simply does not empower the Federal Government to oversee the programming decisions of broadcasters in the manner prescribed by this bill.
Conditioning license renewals upon the Federal Government's determination as to the adequacy of a licensee's programming would violate the First Amendment. It would inhibit broadcasters from offering innovative programs that do not fit neatly into regulatory categories and discourage the creation of programs that might not satisfy the tastes of agency officials responsible for considering license renewals.
The bill's limitation on advertising revenue for certain types of programming places the Federal Government in the inappropriate position of favoring certain kinds of programming over others. This type of government regulation may well undermine its stated purpose by discouraging commercial networks from financing quality children's programming. In addition, it raises constitutional issues both by virtue of the difficulty of defining "children's television programming" in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's proscription of either overinclusive or underinclusive regulation of speech and by virtue of the manifest incongruence between the stated purpose of the provision and the means chosen to effectuate it. See Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Company of Puerto Rico, 106 S. Ct. 2968, 2977 (1986).
The bill simply cannot be reconciled with the freedom of expression secured by our Constitution. Moreover, despite its laudable goals, it is likely to be counterproductive. Accordingly, I am compelled to disapprove this measure.
No policy concerns can override the requirements of the First Amendment.
The White House,
November 5, 1988.
Ronald Reagan, Memorandum of Disapproval on a Bill Concerning Children's Television Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/252732