WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge is being asked to order the National Endowment for the Arts to let the media and public attend meetings this week where grant applications are to be reviewed.

The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer filed suit last week contending the meetings, scheduled for Thursday, are required to be open under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson said she planned to rule on the matter today.

At issue are working groups of the National Council for the Arts, which advises the NEA on grant applications. The full council's open meetings are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, while the working groups plan to meet a day earlier.

The newspapers' lawyer, Patrick J. Carome, told the judge during a hearing Tuesday the working groups ''played an absolutely integral role in affecting the nature of the deliberations'' at the council's meetings in January.

Two grant applications already had been ''flagged'' for special discussion by the time of the council's January meeting, he said, adding that the media had no way to find out how the two applications were singled out.

Attorney Peter Modlin, representing the NEA, said the working groups' purpose was ''solely informational'' and that they did not involve deliberations on grant applications.

''Plaintiffs already have a great deal of access to the overall process,'' Modlin said, adding that ordering the working groups' meetings to be opened would harm the council's work.

The newspapers said they wanted to cover the meetings because of the current debate over whether the NEA should provide grants to arts projects that may be offensive to the public.