Last updated: February 21, 2008 - 10:49am
NEW REPORTING REGS FOR BROADCASTERS
[SOURCE: tvnewsday, AUTHOR: Harry A. Jessell]
The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules requiring TV stations to make quarterly local programming reports on standardized forms. Stations must file the reports with the FCC and, if they have a Web site, make them available online to the public. The standardized forms will require broadcasters to list “various types of programming, including local civic programming, local electoral affairs programming, public service announcements, and independently produced programming,” according to the FCC press release issued following the late-night vote. The forms also will require broadcasters to report any efforts they have made to ascertain the programming needs of various segments of their community, closed captioning and video described content. This form will replace the current issues/programs list, which required broadcasters to place in their public file on a quarterly basis a list of programs that have provided the most significant treatment of community issues. Commissioner Michael Copps saw the action as one step toward his goal of imposing specific public interest obligations on broadcasters. “[I]f we ever get serious about having an honest-to-goodness licensing and re-licensing regime around here—and I intend to keep pushing hard for that—we will have much better data on which to make those decisions,” Commissioner Copps said. Explaining his partial dissent to the action, Commissioner Robert McDowell said he objected to the “quick” 60-day implementation requirement. And McDowell put himself squarely in opposition to Copps, saying the FCC is heading in the “wrong direction” with the new reporting requirements: “Today’s highly competitive video market motivates broadcasters to respond to the interests of their local communities. I question the need for government to foist upon local stations its preferences regarding categories of programming. While we stop short of requiring certain content, we risk treading on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters. The First Amendment applies to them too. This form is government’s not-so-subtle attempt to exert pressure on stations to air certain types of content. I cannot aid and abet even a small step toward such a goal.”
* FCC Press release:
* Chairman Martin: "Today we take steps to highlight the work many broadcasters are doing to serve their community, and shine a light on those who could improve their commitment to localism.... Broadcasters are required to meet the needs and interests of their local audience and the item we adopt today allows the public to better monitor how they are fulfilling this public interest obligation. This public 'report card' will shine a bright light on the activities of television stations across the country."
* Commissioner Copps: "This is a good step forward. While it doesn’t deliver the real kind of public interest standards that I think the American people would like to have for those who manage the public’s airwaves, it will provide significantly more information than we presently have to inform us all about what and how broadcasters are doing. So if we ever get serious about having an honest-to-goodness licensing and re-licensing regime around here—and I intend to keep pushing hard for that—we will have much better data on which to make those decisions."
* Commissioner Adelstein: "After more than seven years of ignoring the near unanimous voice of the American people for the Commission to protect their right to a broadcast media that explicitly serves their interests, this Commission has finally mustered the courage to complete an important but much easier side of the public interest equation: the TV broadcasters’ obligation to simply disclose and report their programming activities to the public they serve."
* Commissioner Tate: "This Order is not meant to burden broadcasters, but rather to help them inform their audiences about the valuable public interest they serve."
* Commissioner McDowell: "I am concerned ... about the burden that the website posting requirement, along with the 60-day implementation deadline, will have on smaller stations.... requiring compliance with additional regulations immediately may overly burden the broadcasters without sufficient corresponding benefits to the local citizens served by the station. Accordingly, I dissent to the 60-day implementation deadline for the required postings. These additional regulations will impose a high initial burden and appreciable cost of converting extensive existing paper files so that they are accessible via the Internet. Such a quick implementation period adds to this burden for smaller stations that are struggling most with how to allocate their resources at this critical time before the digital transition. I also have significant concerns about the new standardized form we adopt today. The form requires TV stations to file with the Commission disclosures regarding: efforts to ascertain the programming needs of various segments of the community; and a list reporting all programming aired in various categories such as local news, local civic and electoral affairs programming, religious programming, independently produced programming and so forth. Yet, the Commission eliminated ascertainment requirements for television and radio stations in 1984 after a thorough examination of the broadcast market. While today’s Order falls short of reinstating the ascertainment procedures discarded by the 1984 Commission, I am concerned that we are heading in the wrong direction. Today’s highly competitive video market motivates broadcasters to respond to the interests of their local communities. I question the need for government to foist upon local stations its preferences regarding categories of programming. While we stop short of requiring certain content, we risk treading on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters. The First Amendment applies to them too. This form is government’s not-so-subtle attempt to exert pressure on stations to air certain types of content. I cannot aid and abet even a small step toward such a goal."
DISCLOSURE IMPORTANT, BUT PIOs NEEDED, TOO
[SOURCE: Benton Foundation]
The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules aimed at improving the information local television broadcasters provide to the communities they are licensed to serve. This commendable action is an important step for local communities to evaluate whether broadcasters are adhering to U.S. law and serving the "public interest, convenience and necessity." "Broadcasters already disclose their financial statements to investors and their political contributions to voters," noted Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton. "They also should fully disclose their public interest programming to viewers. This reporting is as important as food labeling." But, as has been reported widely, the FCC is also moving quickly to change media ownership rules and allow local newspaper owners to purchase radio and TV stations in the same community. Critics of this move have asked the Commission to delay this decision. In part, they argue that the FCC should first complete a proceeding began in 1995 that would define what programming "in the public interest" means in the age of digital television, which officially begins in February 2009 -- less than 450 days away. Benton responded with a warning that the work on public interest obligations is now, at best, just half done.
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