Gore Commission agrees to public interest standard
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The 22-member Gore Commission, which has worked for over a year to map out what public interest obligations should be imposed upon digital television broadcasters, issued its final public report in mid-December.
Members of the sharply diverse panel — including 13 non- broadcasters — could not reach a consensus as to what obligations, if any, the government should impose upon digital broadcasters, who stand to earn additional economic benefits from the multiple channels that can be broadcast digitally.
The panel noted the tradition of public interest obligations on broadcasters who as licensees were granted access to scarce public airways, and the fears that, absent regulation, those obligations might not continue in an an era of digital broadcasting. Some panel members said that the increased value digital broadcasters are expected to enjoy should be accompanied by greater public interest obligations.
The Clinton administration had urged the Commission empaneled by Vice President Albert Gore to make recommendations easing the ability of political candidates to gain air time, but the panel did not adopt that recommendation.
The panel agreed to five categories for minimum public interest standards for digital broadcasters:
Community outreach: Digital stations should be required to develop a method of determining a community’s needs and interests which would serve as a station’s road map for addressing those needs.
Accountability: Stations should report quarterly to the public on their public interest efforts.
Public service announcements: Minimum commitment to public service announcements should be required with at least equal emphasis placed on locally produced PSAs addressing a community’s local needs.
Public affairs programming: A minimum commitment to public affairs programming should be required of digital broadcasters but that is not defined as coverage of news itself.
Closed captioning: A digital broadcast station should provide closed captioning of PSAs, public affairs programming and political programming. (Final report, Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters)