The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report recommending that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) improve its enforcement of the Children’s Television Act (CTA) of 1990, which restricts advertising during children’s programs, requires a certain amount of informational/ educational programming as a condition of broadcast license renewals and prohibits the use of program characters in advertising during any program for children younger than age 12. On the basis of its review of FCC data, interviews with FCC and broadcast station officials and focus groups with parents, GAO expressed concerns about the agency’s lack of specific standards to assess informational (or “core children’s”) programming. The report also found that most self-reported violations involved broadcasters exceeding advertising time limits.

According to the report, core children’s programming on commercial broadcast stations “increased significantly” from 1998 to 2010, along with cable and satellite providers—“to which core children’s programming requirements do not apply—increasing the number of channels specifically targeted to children.” Noting a lack of widely accepted standards to assess such programming, GAO recommends that FCC (i) “implement a strategy to oversee cable operators’ and satellite providers’ compliance,” (ii) “work with industry to develop voluntary guidelines for assessing core children’s programming,” and (iii) “implement and assess the effectiveness of additional mechanisms to inform parents about core children’s programming.”