As broadcasters gather in Las Vegas this week for an annual meeting, a hot topic is a plan to make them do more to serve communities, from creating citizen advisory panels to sharing radio playlists with the government. Under proposals published Feb. 13, the Federal Communications Commission would require television and radio station owners to reconnect with their markets at a time when technology allows remote broadcasting and shared programming. The industry doesn't like the idea. How broadcasters serve the public interest in exchange for free use of public airwaves has been debated for decades. The stakes have increased as media consolidation and technology have allowed stations to operate without a local presence and with ownership far away. The FCC said it was rethinking its past reliance on "market forces" to decide programming. Gene Kimmelman, vice president of federal and international policy for Consumers Union, said, "The question is, over time, have they served the needs of their community defined by the community or have they broadcast what they like to broadcast?" The NAB response is that community boards would be a bureaucratic nightmare, content requirements might infringe on the First Amendment and many smaller stations wouldn't have the financial resources to comply with new staffing requirements and other rules.
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