D.C. TV Licenses Challenged

The United Church of Christ and the Center For Digital Democracy will later today file a petition with the FCC to deny the licenses of two D.C. TV stations for "failure to serve the educational needs of children."

The licenses for the stations, Paxson's WPXW and Fox-owned UPN affiliate WDCA, have come up for renewal, among the first since the FCC adopted children's TV guidelines in 1996 (license terms are eight years). Under those guidelines, stations must carry three hours of educational children's programming per week.

The two groups argued that three shows,  Miracle Pets, Ace Lightning and  Stargate Infinity, that the stations claimed as educational do not meet the FCC definition, and that without them the stations have failed to meet their quota.

“This is the first time TV station licenses have been challenged since the FCC adopted the children’s television processing guidelines in 1996," said United Church of Christ Managing Director and former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. "The FCC needs to send an unequivocal message that it will deny a TV station’s license renewal if that station has failed their child audience.”

The groups say that the problem of non-educational, and even anti-social shows, offered up as FCC-friendly kids programming is not confined to the two stations. "We're going to be looking at other stations as licenses come up and as our resources allow," said Tristani.

Children's TV was a key concern of Tristani's while she was a commissioner, though she points out it was also a key responsibility given that the three-hour quota was a congressional mandate and an FCC rule.

Ironically, the shows the two groups suggest are the least FCC-friendly, Ace Lightning Stargate Infinity, are part of a three-hour block of children's programming from DIC Entertainment that are supplied to 430 stations across the country specifically to meet their educational kids programming requirements.

"DIC retained a team of industry experts who specialize in children and media, to bring programs to the public that not only provide first-rate entertainment for kids, but also contain curriculum designed to satisfy FCC requirements," the company says on its Web site. "
The FCC next week is set to rule that broadcasters will have to average three hours of educational children's programming on each of their digital multicast channels, as well as their primary digital channel.

"WPXW TV fully complies with all FCC requirements," said a Pax spokesman. "We haven't received the petition. We learned about this through a press release. We don't respond to press releases."

A Fox Washington representative had no response, saying she, too, had not yet seen the petition.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.