Federal policies have tilted dramatically toward the promotion of cable and pay television, threatening the nation's free television system, Leonard Goldenson, chairman of American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., charged yesterday.

In an unusually blunt attack on federal regulators by a television industry executive, Goldenson told a luncheon gathering at the National Press Club that government policies -- particularly recent decisions by the Federal Communications Commission -- have discriminated against national network growth and programming.

"It is time for the government to get off our backs," Goldenson said. "It was one thing for the government to expect us to operate under tough, restrictive rules when the national communications system was served primarily by free broadcasting. It is quite another, however, for the government to promote pay television and other systems by arbitrarily discriminating against free television."

Goldenson proposed a series of steps that he said are designed to let broadcasters "compete fully and fairly in the telephone markets of the 1980s."

He proposed revising the Copyright Act of 1976 in order to force operators of cable television systems to obtain consent and pay higher fees for the use of television programming.

Further, he proposed that the FCC lift rules which prevent broadcasters from owning cable systems in markets where they also own conventional television outlets, and he urged the commission to repeal restrictions preventing broadcasters from owning multiple outlets in the same markets.

Goldenson also said the FCC should allow any television station to offer subscription service and permit each of the major networks to provide a second network to meet the needs of specialized audiences.

The ABC executive suggested that sports programming and other key parts of the television menu are headed for pay television.

Goldenson said that during the 1960s, the FCC consistently recognized the importance of local stations, but in decisions such as this summer's "syndicated exclusivity" and "distant signal" rules it has opened the television market "regardless of the program owner's intent to limit the area in which the program may be shown."

"Clearly what we have seen is a quiet but profound reversal in government policy," he said. "The government is promoting those systems which require the viewer to pay a fee.

"At the same time, it is placing new and more difficult burdens on free television stations and networks. Washington has tilted the balance -- against free television and in favor of pay television," Goldenson said.