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TV Executives Will Add Children's Programs

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New throngs of friendly, zany, instructive TV personalities may join Big Bird, Carmen Sandiego, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, following an accord to expand the amount of educational programming on television.

After a weekend of negotiations at the White House late last month, the nation's television broadcasters, networks, and a coalition of child-advocacy groups agreed on a plan to require every television station to broadcast a minimum of three hours of educational programming a week.

If adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, which sets rules to implement the Children's Television Act of 1990, the agreement could become part of decisions about whether the broadcast license of a television station is renewed.

The FCC is scheduled to consider the measure this week. Late last week, observers predicted that a majority of the panel was likely to go along with the agreement.

To count toward the three-hour quota, a program would have to be regularly scheduled weekly "core programming" of at least 30 minutes, aired between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

It also would have to "serve the educational and informational needs" of children age 16 or younger "in any respect, including the child's intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs." Its educational nature and target child audience would be specified in advance.

But the plan also would give broadcasters alternative routes to meeting the requirement--a key reason the television industry dropped its long-standing opposition to a quota. Subject to FCC staff approval, a TV station also could count specials, "short-form programming," and public service announcements toward its three hours.

In addition, stations that failed to meet the guidelines could attempt to demonstrate their compliance through nonbroadcast efforts, such as contributing money to public broadcasting stations or donating computers to schools.

"What this [agreement] will do is to change the way the industry thinks about children's programming," Peggy Charren, the long-time champion of children's television who took part in the negotiations, said in an interview said last week.

Ms. Charren added that, for the first time, child advocates sat alongside TV executives in high-level discussions about broadcasting policy.

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