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Kids Inundated With Ads, PBS Chief Says

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Commercial broadcasters have been shirking their responsibilities under the 1990 Children's Television Act, according to PBS president Paula Kerger.

At the channel's Television Critics Association presentation this week, she said she welcomed an upcoming review of the act and compliance by the Federal Communications Commission.

The act was passed to require commercial broadcasters to increase educational and informational programming. Among other things, it stipulated that stations air a minimum of three hours a week of core educational series.

"The line between commerce and content are blurred beyond recognition" by commercial broadcasters, Kerger said. "Broadcasters are not holding up their end of the deal." She said the same conclusion was reached by a number of independent researchers.

Kerger wouldn't cite specific instances, but she invited the audience of TV critics on the semiannual press tour to check out any of the most popular sites aimed at kids. "Advertising is so thoroughly embedded into the content," she said. "There are a lot of pop-ups. It's on all of them."

Compounding the problem is the fact that young children are not sophisticated enough to differentiate between programs and commercials, she added.

That's in stark contrast to PBSKidsGo.com, from which children downloaded a record 87.5 million video streams in December. Kerger announced the Web site now offers a new videogame, Lifeboat to Mars, that merges education with 40 game levels.

Kerger also announced a new current affairs program, Need to Know, that will be part of its Friday evening public affairs lineup. The show will premiere at 8:30 p.m. May 7, replacing Bill Moyers Journal and NOW. The new show will have reports from five beats: economy, environment and energy, health, security and culture.

The new series is part of a public affairs emphasis that will include a new Web site that will aggregate reports from PBS' Frontline and NewsHour, NPR and other sources. "We want to make it as easy as possible to access all of this information," Kerger said.