Two television watchdog groups, citing a lack of required educational programs for children at two Washington stations, are trying to get the outlets' licenses revoked.
The Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a petition yesterday asking the Federal Communications Commission not to renew licenses for WDCA (Channel 20) and WPXW (Channel 66).
The groups argue that the two stations have not complied with the FCC's 1996 guidelines regarding the Children's Television Act, which require stations to air at least three hours of educational programming for children per week. The act has never before been cited in a petition to revoke a license.
The stations "are clearly in violation of the rules and are thumbing their noses at parents, educators and children in this market," Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said yesterday in an interview.
The stations presented three programs to the FCC as meeting the requirements: WDCA's animated, action-oriented sci-fi shows "Ace Lightning" and "Stargate Infinity," and WPXW's reality show "Miracle Pets," which profiles extraordinary animals. The petitioners assert that the shows do not meet FCC guidelines.
The groups' petition states that "Ace Lightning" and "Stargate" contain excessive violence and convey "an antisocial message." As for "Miracle Pets," the petition reads: "[I]t is not specifically designed for children nor does it have education as a substantial purpose."
Nancy Udell, a spokeswoman for Paxson Communications, which owns WPXW, declined to comment on the petition late yesterday, saying she has not seen it. "We're only aware of it through a press release," she said, "and we don't respond to press releases."
WDCA is owned by Fox but carries UPN programming. The station's general manager, Duffy Dyer, was not available for comment yesterday.
University of Arizona communications professor Dale Kunkel, a children's television expert who is cited in the petition, said in an interview yesterday that many stations engage in "creative re-labeling" of entertainment shows that would be aired regardless of regulatory requirements.
"You don't have to have a PhD and be an expert in kids' TV to look at these shows and say, 'Wait a minute, that's not educational and informational,' " Kunkel said.
Station owners must apply to the FCC for renewal every eight years, but it is extremely rare for a station to lose its license. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and advocacy groups have argued that the commission's renewal process has grown lenient over the years as deregulation has continued.
Chester said the filing of the petition against WDCA and WPXW is the "tip of the iceberg" and his group will target other stations across the country.
Gloria Tristani, the managing director of the church's communication office and a former FCC commissioner, agreed. "This is a good place to start holding stations accountable," she said yesterday. "The FCC has the opportunity to . . . send a message that they're going to get serious about meeting their obligations."