Obama Urges FCC to Reduce Length of TV Station Licenses

Sep 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is throwing out more hints that the Federal Communications Commission would have a somewhat different focus if he wins the election.
At Thursday night’s FCC media ownership hearing in Chicago, an aide read a statement in which the Illinois senator complimented the FCC for holding the hearing but questioned some of the FCC’s past focus on easing ownership rules.
Sen. Obama said the FCC should reduce the length of TV station licenses and get more input, more often, on how well stations are serving community needs.
“I believe that broadcaster license-renewal requests—the periodic review required to ensure that broadcasters are complying with their public-interest obligations to local communities for using the public spectrum—should require greater FCC scrutiny and public input and occur more frequently.”
Sen. Obama has been critical of TV and the FCC before, attacking TV’s “coarsening” in a speech to the Kaiser Family Foundation, but Thursday’s statement was the most specific he’s gotten on other changes. He also cited concerns about diversity in media ownership and media content.
“I want all of you to know how important I think it is that we have a national, inclusive, open and transparent discussion on the government’s responsibility to ensure that the nation’s media marketplace reflects a diversity of opinions and views, meets the needs of local communities and ensures fair competition,” the senator said in the statement.
“I believe that the nation’s media ownership rules remain necessary and are critical to the public interest. We should be doing much more to encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints and establish greater clarity in the public-interest obligations of broadcasters occupying the nation’s spectrum.
“Instead of greater consolidation, I fully endorse the call for new rules promoting greater coverage of local issues and greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communities they operate in.”
Last night’s ownership hearing at the Rainbow-Push Coalition headquarters on Chicago’s South Side was the second to last of six hearings the FCC is planning.
Before the meeting, FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin met with the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, and according to today’s paper, pointed to the Tribune Co.’s problem with the FCC’s cross-ownership rule as an example of why changes to that rule are likely to be debated.
The cross-ownership rule bars companies that own a local TV station or newspaper in a market from buying each other. The Tribune Co.’s recent sale to Sam Zell and an employee stock ownership plan could force the sale of WGN-TV or the Chicago Tribune if the rule isn’t changed. Tribune also is in violation of the rule in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Hartford, Conn., but has requested waivers in those markets.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Martin told the paper’s editors the cross-ownership rule is the only FCC ownership rule that hasn’t changed since 1996. He cited court support of a change, saying an appellate court in 2003 that overturned sweeping FCC ownership rule changes indicated the ownership changes may not be justified. Public-interest groups have questioned that interpretation of the decision.


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