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U.S. Agency Is Sued Over Failure To Regulate Children's TV

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Washington--Seven years after they filed their first lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (fcc), members of a Boston-based advocacy group were back in court last week to bring another suit against the federal agency for "failing and refusing to take final action" in the commission's 12-year-old children's-television proceedings.

Lawyers for Action for Children's Television (act), an organization that works to influence the content and amount of programming for children, filed the suit, which names all seven fcc commissioners and the commission itself, in district court here.

Maintaining that the federal agency is "dragging its feet," act members said the suit is designed to force the fcc to move forward with rulemaking procedures regarding children's programming.

"Children who were preschoolers when the fcc proceeding began are teen-agers now," Ms. Charren said during a press conference, "and a whole new generation of young people is growing up with a lack of TV viewing options."

An fcc spokesman declined to comment, saying that the agency had not yet received the court papers in the case.

Policy Statement

In 1970, act filed a petition asking the fcc to develop regulations to govern children's television programming. The request led to a 1974 policy statement by the commission urging broadcasters to create pro-gramming that serves "the unique needs of the child audience." The advocacy group also filed a set of proposed rules for the commission's consideration.

In 1975, act took the fcc to court, claiming that its failure to adopt formal and more restrictive programming rules was "an abuse of the fcc's discretion," according to an act spokesman. The court decided against act's claim and the group lost a subsequent appeal.

The commission, in response to continuing complaints from the group, established a Children's Television Task Force in 1978 to evaluate industry compliance with the 1974 report. The work of that group, according to one staff member, has been "in limbo" under the new Administration.

Ms. Charren asserted that the commercial networks, sensing that the fcc under the Reagan Administration is taking a less active role in promoting children's television, no longer feel much pressure to fulfill their "obligations" to children.

She said there is less regularly scheduled weekday programming for children on commercial television than ever before, citing a study--filed with the fcc--by F. Earle Barcus, a Boston University researcher.

She also pointed to the recently released National Institute of Mental Health report that concludes there is "overwhelming" evidence of a link between televised violence and aggressive behavior in children.

Should the fcc formally drop its children's television proceedings as a result of the suit, Ms. Charren said, "We will respond to that, too."

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