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FCC children’s programming mandate triggers free speech challenge

Television broadcasters are fighting a new FCC requirement, set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2006, that would require children’s programming to extend to all new DTV channels. Child Advocacy Groups are demanding that the rule be enforced. With heels dug in, both sides are heading to what some predict could be a legal showdown over First Amendment rights.

The FCC last year voted to require three hours of children’s programming each week on all digital television channels broadcast by a station. Last month, Viacom challenged FCC rules in court. In a suit filed in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Viacom argued that the new children’s programming requirement and other rules violate the First Amendment, the National Journal reported.

In its appellate court filing, Viacom argued that the FCC rule expanding children’s television requirements to all multicast channels “is not narrowly tailored to achieve an important government interest” and “there is no evidence that the current level of [educational] programming offered on primary channels is inadequate to meet the needs of children.”

Some broadcasters have argued that applying the three-hour requirement on all DTV channels could undermine the business case for devoting multicast channels to a single topic of programming, such as weather or traffic information.

If the case goes to trial it could define how the First Amendment should apply to digital broadcasting. Issues of multicast must carry, the broadcast of indecent material, and media ownership all could hinge on the outcome of such a case.

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