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FCC Plan to Boost Amount, Quality of Kids TV Hits Snag

July 10, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Less than three weeks ago, federal regulators were on the verge of adopting a plan that would increase the amount of educational television for children. Now, it’s in jeopardy _ again.

Commissioner James Quello is raising a slew of objections to the plan that has been drafted, complaining it would allow the government to further infringe on broadcasters’ rights to decide what to put on the air.

Quello’s support for the plan is vital if it is to win passage, analysts believe.

If the plan is not changed, ``I’d vote against it,″ Quello told The Associated Press.

The plan would require TV stations to air at least three hours of educational shows a week for children as a condition of license renewal.

But Quello contends the plan does not give broadcasters enough flexibility to meet that goal. He also said the three-hour standard should be a ceiling, not a floor.

Quello’s opposition prompted FCC Chairman Reed Hundt to cancel a commission meeting for Thursday, when the measure was supposed to come up for a vote.

Negotiations among the FCC’s four commissioners continue. But the optimism that prevailed in recent days is clearly waning.

``We’re hung up on this children’s item,″ Hundt acknowledged. ``I’m hopeful, but I’m much more worried than I was two days ago because Jim is clearly balking at jumping the last hurdle. I’m not sure he’s going to do it, but we’ll see.″

Is the FCC’s children’s TV plan all but dead?

``I can’t say that for sure,″ Hundt said.

Lauren Belvin, Quello’s top aide, insists Quello wants to resolve the matter and remains committed to a three-hour weekly requirement.

``To say that he is blocking a vote or reneging on a deal is wrong,″ Belvin said.

But children’s television activist Peggy Charren said Quello is doing just that.

``Everybody is furious. He’s going back on his word. He lied to me,″ Charren said.

On June 14 _ before the current plan was written _ Quello said he would not stand in the way of a children’s television plan regardless of how it is implemented.

``I’m not going to be the roadblock,″ Quello told The Associated Press. ``I’ll support the plan, whatever it is.″

At that time Hundt, Charren and other children’s TV supporters hailed Quello’s comments as virtually assuring the third vote the FCC needs to approve the plan and end a year-long deadlock.

One month earlier, Quello had also reversed a long-held position, saying he would support a three-hour weekly minimum _ but only if it was voluntary, or if that figure was based on an industry average.

But Quello said the plan presented him was more far-reaching than he had expected.

For instance, Quello, a former broadcaster, thinks the plan is too restrictive in what programs can be counted as ``educational and informational″ and doesn’t give stations credit for non-programming activities, like running community literacy programs or raising funds to computerize schools.

``If the chairman insists on getting all or nothing, he’ll get nothing,″ Belvin said.

Hundt, however, has the White House on his side.

President Clinton supports a three-hour weekly requirement and plans to meet with TV industry leaders at the end of this month. Broadcasters oppose any government standard in this area and said any effort to increase the amount and quality of children’s shows should be voluntary.

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