Watchdogs Take to the Air at NAB

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

What’s the hot-air balloon with all the anti-industry slogans doing hovering over the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this week?
According to watchdog group representatives, it’s supposed to call attention to the official kickoff of their campaign to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to beef up the public interest obligations of broadcast TV stations as they switch to digital transmission technology.
“[It’s] to get in broadcasters’ faces a little and let them know that this is something that really matters to the public,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause.
Besides the balloon-which is supposed to say “Billions for broadcasters, hot air for the public” on one side and “Our democracy, our airwaves” on the other-the launch of the campaign is also supposed to feature a press conference outside the convention on Tuesday. The featured speaker at the conference, according to Ms. Boyle, is slated to be FCC Democrat Michael Copps, the industry’s most persistent agency critic.
The watchdog groups, which are also launching a petition drive, want the FCC to endorse the new public interest obligations before considering resolution of a long-pending request by broadcasters for a rule that would require cable operators to carry all of the free programming streams that TV stations offer on their digital frequencies.
In a memo last week, Common Cause said the groups are seeking a variety of obligations, including one requiring broadcasters to carry at least three hours a week of “local civic or electoral affairs programming” on their highest-rated digital channel, with at least half of that aired between 5 p.m. and 11:35 p.m.
The groups also are proposing a guideline suggesting that broadcasters ensure that a minimum of 25 percent of their most popular channel’s prime-time schedule is devoted to independently produced programming.
Among the groups represented in the watchdog coalition, according to Common Cause, are MoveOn.org, the New America Foundation, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Alliance for Better Campaigns.
A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters declined comment.