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Broadcasters pan FCC inquiry into local content

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Broadcasters pan FCC inquiry into local content

  • The National Association of Broadcasters is protesting a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into possibly curbing what broadcasters air.

Nov. 24, 2004 — Mandating what broadcasters air — from news to children’s programming — as a condition for use of the public airwaves is “unlawful, unnecessary and fraught with peril,” the National Association of Broadcasters said in early November in response to a notice of inquiry from the Federal Communications Commission seeking comment on how broadcasters serve communities.

An FCC notice on broadcast localism, posted on the commission’s Web site in July, initiated the commission’s inquiry into how broadcasters are serving the interests and needs of their communities and whether new rules are needed to guarantee that they are doing so. An inquiry is not a formal proposal but can precede it.

More than 81,000 comments were submitted to the FCC. Many were from small radio and TV stations, describing what they did to support their commitment to localism. For example, WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, airs twenty-seven hours of local news every week. Of the eight hours available for local programming every weekday before midnight, five hours are dedicated to local news. Many commenters suggested that further FCC regulation would be cumbersome.

Mandating that news and other programming be aired for a certain number of hours or during certain times could violate First Amendment protections by regulating certain speech, NAB President and Chief Executive Edward O. Fritts told Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

The FCC has questioned whether stations should be required to air specific quantities of news, public affairs, locally originated programs and children’s programming. Supporters of the FCC’s inquiry say corporate consolidation has led broadcasters to increasingly neglect their obligation to serve local audiences.

NAB said that broadcasters can discern local needs on their own and that those that fail their communities will have low ratings and will go out of business. Mandates, however, will drive up stations’ operating costs, the association said.

A similar notice of inquiry was posted by the FCC in December 1999. The inquiry focused on the nature of television broadcasters’ public interest obligations as they made the transition to digital television. The inquiry resulted in proposed rules, including one to enhance television broadcasters’ disclosures of their public interest activities. The other proposed rule considered television broadcasters’ obligations with respect to children’s programming in the DTV environment.

KC

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