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FCC suggests ways broadcasters can better serve the public

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D. C.         Broadcasting         Feb 5, 2001    

FCC suggests ways broadcasters can better serve the public

  • The Federal Communications Commission released a report that outlines ways broadcasters can better serve their local communities as they move to digital broadcasting.

The Federal Communications Commission released a report on Jan. 18 that gave pointers to broadcasters on how to better fulfill their public interest obligations.

As it moves television broadcasters from analog to digital television, the FCC has been looking into ways to expand the public interest requirements, primarily in response to those who say broadcasters should have to pay for frequency spectrum allocations. Requirements broadcasters must currently meet include: airing programming that discusses community issues of concern, providing equal opportunities to candidates for public office, airing three hours of children’s programming per week, prohibiting indecent programming from certain times of the day and providing some programming with closed captions.

“DTV broadcasters should use the flexibility of DTV to serve the public in exchange for, and in ways that are commensurate with, the value of the spectrum they use,” the FCC report stated, noting that the spectrum that will be licensed to broadcasters would have a market value of about $70 billion if auctioned to the highest bidders. “Given DTV’s unknown potential, and unprecedented flexibility, the Commission needs to find ways to ensure that broadcasters harness their new opportunities to serve the public interest, and enrich children’s lives.”

The report followed a May 25, 2000 letter from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Robert Byrd (D- W.Va.) urging the agency to “determine if in fact the broadcasters are serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

Some suggestions given in the FCC report to broadcasters include:

* Airing local public affairs programming daily in addition to news coverage.

* Setting aside airtime for expression for local community groups.

* Using the multichannel capacity to produce programming targeted to particular areas within their service areas.

* Airing public service announcements during peak viewing hours.

* Using web-based forums such as chat rooms to engage in regular contact with the communities to find out how to best serve their needs.

* Airing programming that serves the educational and informational needs of children of different ages.

* Using the DTV flexibility to serve children in dynamic, innovative ways such as datacasting and interactive video.

* Devoting at least five minutes each night for 30 days before an election to candidate-centered discussion.

* Developing new ways to provide disaster and emergency information.

* Expanding and enhancing closed captioning and video descriptions.

* Periodically reassessing how new technologies can be used to enhance service to the local community.

Not all the principles outlined in the FCC report related to digital broadcasting; many also applied to analog channels. Additionally, the report encouraged broadcasters to generate their own ideas of how to better serve their communities.

In a letter to the senators, former FCC Chairman William Kennard said the television industry not only is complying with the three-hour per week requirement for children’s programming, but the stations have exceed the mandate and provide an average of four hours. However, the former chairman said stations could better publicize their children’s programming. — EH


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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