WASHINGTON — With a second meeting with television industry executives set for Monday, the Clinton administration has been laboring furiously to bring the broadcast networks to a compromise on providing three hours of educational programming for children per week.
President Clinton has made children's television a campaign issue, and administration officials had hoped that the White House meeting would be a high-profile celebration of the passage of government guidelines by the Federal Communications Commission.
But the FCC under Chairman Reed Hundt, a Clinton appointee, has been locked in a stalemate over the issue.
"The White House wants closure on this issue, and [administration officials are] trying to break the deadlock at the FCC," one TV industry executive said Friday.
White House officials met with representatives from the National Assn. of Broadcasters to try to create a plan for guidelines that industry officials would accept before Monday. According to sources involved in the negotiations, the networks may agree to a plan that is a variation of a compromise currently before the FCC.
Under the plan being discussed Friday, broadcasters would agree, as part of the process for renewal of their licenses, to provide three hours of educational programming for children per week.
But they would have more flexibility in what they could count as such educational programming, including public-service announcements, TV specials and perhaps even their stations' community work with children.
Broadcasters also want the FCC to eliminate the legal arguments that it put forth as justification for imposing the guidelines. The networks have said that language sets the stage for further regulation of their industry. Hundt and his staff have countered that the FCC's decision must be defended should it be challenged in court.
Despite their objections to the guidelines, several broadcasters said, they know that they have lost the public-relations battle on this issue and they would like to get it settled. There is strong support, both in Congress and among the public, for guidelines requiring a minimum number of hours of educational programming to fulfill broadcasters' obligations under the Children's Television Act.
"Clinton is under pressure to get this settled by Monday," one industry executive said. "But we've lost the war on three hours a week."
The White House sought to play down expectations for the meeting, with John Emerson, deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, saying the purpose of the gathering was to use "the presidency as bully pulpit, bringing the players in the entertainment industry who are involved in children's programming" together to talk about improving their offerings.
PBS President Ervin Duggan; Herbert Scannel, president of the Nickelodeon cable TV network, and others involved in children's television will attend the meeting. The White House also added entertainer Bill Cosby to the list of those who will attend.