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The U.S. Supreme Court has avoided rendering judgment on the constitutionality of a Mesquite, Tex., town ordinance that bars individuals under 17 years of age from playing coin-operated pinball or video computer-games.

The Court, noting in a summary opinion that "Congress has limited this court's jurisdiction to review questions of state law," sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

Lawyers for the Amusement Device Manufacturers Association, a trade group, argued that the ordinance violates the constitutional right of individuals under 17 to associate with one another.

When it first heard the case, the appeals court said the age restriction was unconstitutional.

The Coalition for Better Television has urged its members to boycott NBC, its parent company, RCA Corporation, and other RCA subsidiaries such as the Hertz Corporation and the Gibson greeting-card company, to pressure the network into changing the "offensive" content of its programs.

The coalition, based in Tupelo, Miss., under the direction of Donald E. Wildmon, a United Methodist minister, says it represents 1,800 local groups.

A similar boycott was called off last June after all three networks agreed to a content review of their shows.

But Mr. Wildmon said at a press conference held in Washington this month that the networks had only temporarily toned down programs his group finds offensive. NBC, he said, was singled out for the boycott because its program are more objectionable than the other networks'.

The coalition will continue the boycott until a list of 11 demands it presented to the network--concerning portrayal of such subjects as drug abuse, sex, profanity, racial and religious stereotyping, and violence--is met.

A network spokesman said that NBC will not alter its programming to reflect the demands.

Action for Children's Television (act), a nonprofit public-interest group, immediately condemned the boycott.

"We think the goals of the coalition and other groups that want to organize boycotts are a disaster for free speech," said Peggy Charren, president of act

When the coalition first threatened a boycott last summer, act began assembling a petition that, according to Ms. Charren, "would let the industry know that a lot of people don't want the 'New Right' to control televison."

Ms. Charren said the petition, which she sent to the three major networks immediately after the boycott was announced, contains the names of 100,000 people opposed to the boycott technique.

Karen Jaffe, communications specialist at the National Education Association, said the nea would be opposed to boycotting even if it were used to advance goals--like increased hours for children's programming on the networks--in which the teachers' organization believes.

"We don't make lists of good, bad, and terrible," she said. "We pick shows we think are worthwhile for parents, children, and teachers.''

The Federal Communications Commission (fcc) has approved the concept of low-power television, which could open the way for as many as 4,000 new stations--with broadcast ranges of 10 to 15 miles--over the next few years.

Minorities and "new entrants" into broadcasting will be given priority in the assignment of the new channels, the agency said; it has already received 6,000 applications for station space since the plan was proposed two years ago.

No priority would be granted, according to the fcc, to education groups interested in obtaining channels.

Low-power stations make it economically feasible to aim programs more precisely at specific audiences in particular areas. Such stations could make it easier to serve the specific needs of such small "target'' audiences, and that, say proponents of the stations, is where much of their potential lies.

--By Alex Heard

Vol. 01, Issue 25

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