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Make television serve children

CHALK one up for the children. The House of Representatives has passed a bill, 328 to 78, putting a limit on the commercial time that can run with each hour of television programming for youngsters. It's the Senate's turn now, and response there ought to be just as overwhelmingly positive. Under the Reagan-inspired deregulation of broadcasting, children's television has taken a beating. Network staffs once devoted to producing credible news and information programs for kids disappeared, commercialism moved center stage, and such mindless offerings as half-hour shows based on toy company product lines proliferated.

What the present legislation does is to reestablish a couple of fundamentals:

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When it comes to commercialization, children are different from adults. They are more readily exploited by commercials and don't make the distinctions between sales pitches and other programming that most grown-ups are able to make.

The public-interest responsibilities of those who own television stations must embrace children. The bill includes a provision making license renewal contingent on supplying educational and informational programming for younger viewers.

With this legislation, Congress can reaffirm government's traditional role in broadcasting: ensuring that the public airwaves are used in a way that serves the broad interests of the public. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck here. No one wants to see government censors telling broadcasters what to air.

But station owners shouldn't balk at being told there are some basic needs they, as holders of a publicly granted license, should address - among them constructive children's television, motivated by something other than maximization of commercial time.

We hope this bill will stimulate the market for good children's programming as stations seek ways to comply with the law. And we hope, too, that the Federal Communications Commission will vigorously enforce this law, an approach it has not been known for in the recent past.

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