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F.C.C. Proposes Tighter Rules on Educational TV

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WASHINGTON--The Federal Communications Commission last week proposed an interpretation of the Children's Television Act that would make clear that television stations may not count cartoons such as "The Flintstones'' as "educational'' programming to meet the requirements of the law.

The commission voted March 2 to begin a proceeding in which it would clarify broadcasters' obligations to air educational and informational programming for children.

The 1990 federal law set forth such a requirement in vague terms, leaving it to the F.C.C. to define how much and what types of programming would fulfill the law's mandate. Until now, the F.C.C. has not specifically addressed the question of which programs qualify as educational.

The commission reviews a station's efforts to satisfy the law as part of the license-renewal process.

"Some licensees are proffering such animated programs as 'The Flintstones' and 'G.I. Joe' as informational and educational, asserting that such programs include a variety of generalized pro-social themes,'' the commission said in a "notice of inquiry'' last week.

The F.C.C. also noted that some stations have relied on short-segment vignettes and public-service announcements to satisfy the law.

"We do not believe that this level of performance is, in the long term, consistent with the objectives underlying the [act],'' the panel said.

The F.C.C. invited comment on several specific proposals, including a guideline for a minimum amount of educational programming per week. The guideline would not serve as a hard rule, the panel said, since Congress specifically avoided placing such an amount in the law. But by meeting the guideline, a station could avoid closer scrutiny during license renewal.

The F.C.C. suggested a sample guideline of at least one hour of standard-length educational programming during the week and one hour on weekends.

'Turning Back the Clock'

The National Association of Broadcasters issued a statement critical of the proposed minimum guideline.

"During deliberations on the act, Congress clearly rejected the concept of quotas,'' said Jeff Bauman, the N.A.B.'s executive vice president. "We are surprised that the commission would even consider turning back the clock to the 1970's and imposing numerical processing guidelines for public-interest programs.''

On the issue of appropriate programming, the N.A.B. has said previously that stations are unsure of what qualifies as "educational.''

Jeff Chester, the co-director of the Center for Media Education, a group that lobbies for improvements in children's television, applauded the commission's move.

"The good news is that the F.C.C. has finally awakened after 12 years'' of a deregulatory approach during the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Bush, he said. "But broadcasters will be working feverishly to weaken whatever the commission would like to do.''

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