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Broadcasters Fight Localism Rules

Jun 1, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters and their supporters are reacting with fierce opposition to two Federal Communications Commission moves designed to make stations more accountable on airing local programming.
In comments and letters filed with the FCC, the broadcasters suggest the agency went too far last year in first requiring stations to immediately provide more details on their local programming and then proposing a series of additional steps to give the local community a bigger role in license renewals.
In the face of new Internet competition, the FCC should be easing rules, not stepping backwards to increase restrictions, the stations say.
“There is a genuine concern that if these rules are passed, it could cause a massive disruption to the economics of our business and not accomplish what the FCC hopes to accomplish,” said Dennis Wharton, executive VP of media relations for the National Association of Broadcasters. “The only franchise we have is localism. If broadcasters are not serving the community, they won’t be in business long.”
The FCC in November ordered stations to provide more details on local programming. The FCC is awaiting approval by the Office of Management & Budget of the forms it wants to use and will implement the requirement 60 days after approval.
In December, as the FCC eased media ownership rules, the agency also announced a “localism” initiative and sought comments about a series of proposed rule changes. As part of license renewal, a broadcaster’s main studio would have to be in the city of the broadcaster’s license. The station also would have to have community advisory boards, staff the station whenever it is broadcasting and display evidence of local content.
Consumer groups portray the “localism” initiative as a sop to offset congressional critics of the eased ownership rules; they expressed doubts that significant changes will ever be implemented. An FCC spokeswoman declined comment, saying the FCC is still taking public comments on the initiative.
Broadcasters have taken the initiative seriously. After filing their own comments in April—they are expected to file additional comments this week—they have been going so far as to get local charities and service groups to file hundreds of letters opposing the FCC changes.
“WISC-TV [Madison, Wis.] does a tremendous job of addressing the key issues that affect our community,” said Dora E. Zuniga, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, Wis., in a typical letter. “I don’t feel that additional FCC reporting requirements are necessary because this station is already deeply connected to the community and it is clear how dedicated it is to serving the public.”
The broadcasters warn that requiring the main studio to be in the licensee’s city could mean replacing newly constructed suburban studios for no reason; also the rule that staff be on duty at all times could be expensive enough to force small stations to go dark at night. They also say the community advisory boards could provide a forum for advocates who are not representative of the total community to demand programming few would watch.
The biggest argument broadcasters make questions the necessity of licensing renewal changes.
“The audio and video markets have never been more competitive, yet the localism report suggests the FCC is considering reimposing broadcast regulations that the FCC appropriately eliminated more than 20 years ago,” U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., wrote two weeks ago in one of several congressional letters. Rep. Barton is the ranking Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Rep. Stearns is ranking Republican on the panel’s telecom committee.
“Resurrecting these outdated obligations would not only fail to accomplish the stated objectives, it would harm them by shackling broadcasters with costly and unnecessary rules that do not apply to their competitors,” their letter said.
Consumer groups, meanwhile, want to know why the FCC isn’t shortening license renewals from every eight years to three years to more clearly tie local service to licenses. They also question broadcasters’ unwillingness to provide information if they are in fact meeting local programming needs.
“I think it shows they have something to hide,” said Angela Campbell, who heads the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University.
Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a group that is fighting media ownership consolidation, describes the FCC localism proposals as “very mild changes without major impact.”

54 Comments

  1. Agree with the part that local station prove they really serving the apropiate time to a particular community were they are…

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  3. Communities need to continue to fight and protest for FCC Rules on Localism.
    Corporations Owning Radio Stations always looks for ways to hide their responsibility toward the Community of License in favor of syndication programming.
    North Jersey Radio Stations having been taken over by Corporations has done exactly this. New York City News, Information and Coverage does not serve the needs of the Northern New Jersey population.
    So to allow Corporate Control of North Jersey license Radio Stations and allow them to move the operation to NYC and to program to the interest of New Yorkers when they already have the largest amount of radio and television outlets has been the biggest injustice and must be corrected.

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