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F.C.C. Will Resume Attempt To Regulate Children's Television

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Washington--A member of the Federal Communications Commission (fcc) disclosed last week that the commission will resume its rule-making procedures regarding broadcasters' responsibilities to provide television programming for children.

The disclosure came at a hearing on children and television held by the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Consumer Protection, and Finance as part of the "National Children and Television Week."

Henry M. Rivera, an fcc commissioner who testified at the hearings, said the policy shift was revealed in a letter from fcc Chairman Mark S. Fowler to Representative Timothy E. Wirth, Democrat of Colorado and chairman of the panel. In the letter, Mr. Fowler said the fcc will resume regulatory procedures--begun under the Carter Administration--by first holding a public hearing in April, and then making a final decision on the matter by the end of August.

The fcc, partially in response to complaints from a Boston-based group called Action for Children's Television (act), established a Children's Television Task Force in 1977 to evaluate industry compliance with its 1974 policy statement urging broadcasters to create programs that serve "the unique needs of the child audience."

The task force outlined several regulatory options in early 1980. These options ranged from a requirement that a mandatory number of hours be devoted to children's programming, to a philosophy of letting "the marketplace, including new television systems such as cable, take care of children's program-ming," according to an fcc spokesman.

Mr. Rivera said he had been "disheartened by the inaction of my agency" in regulatory matters.

As a result, he said, "many broadcasters have shrewdly appraised the situation in Washington and, seeing that the fcc's attention is on other matters, have adjusted their program schedules accordingly."

Mr. Rivera said that private broadcasters are "public trustees," and as such are subject to "reasonable regulation" by the fcc

Diverse, Enriching Programs

He praised the role of public broadcasting in offering programs for children but noted that funds for public broadcasting have been cut in recent years. "Our children's access to diverse and enriching programs should not be dependent on the vagaries of the appropriations pro-cess," the fcc commissioner said.

Last week's hearing also featured testimony by advocates for more programming specifically geared toward children, as well as by representatives of the major networks who defended the current state of children's television.

Sharon Robinson, director of instruction and professional development at the National Education Association, offered a proposal, seconded by Mr. Rivera, to form a "temporary commission on children's television programming."

This commission would be an ad hoc group of broadcasters, producers, educators, and others brought together to devise ways "the public, industry, and government can work together" to offer a "nonregulatory, private-sector solution to this thorny problem."

Ms. Robinson said that such a commission could, among other things, define what children's programming is and discuss ways to use the "vast storehouse" of children's programming already produced with federal money. She said that more than 50 children's series have been funded by the government since 1968.

Ms. Robinson and several others said that "children's regular television fare" is at an "all-time low."

However, one of the perennial arguments between the networks and the people who describe themselves as advocates of children's television is over the question of what constitutes children's programming.

John Blessington, a CBS vice president for personnel who testified at the hearings, said, "Part of the problem in discussing children and television has been definitional. The fcc has narrowly limited its definition of 'children's programs' to those which are 'originally produced and broadcast for children 12 years old and under."'

"We all know, however, that children watch a far wider range of programming," he added.

Phyllis Tucker-Vinson, vice-president for children's programming at NBC, mentioned several such programs, including "Fame," a "musical-dramatic" series about students at New York's High School for the Performing Arts, and "Voyagers," an "adventure series" about time-travelers.

Squire D. Rushnell, vice-president for children's television at ABC, said that the networks' responsibility toward children cannot and should not be "defined by governmental standards that attempt to mandate either the amount or type of children's programming."

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