FCC Localism Rules Spur Clash

Jun 12, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters are telling the Federal Communication Commission it’s going too far in stepping up scrutiny of how much local content they air. Concurrently, consumer groups are saying it is the broadcasters who are going too far in resisting scrutiny.
In FCC filings, the consumer groups disputed broadcasters’ contentions that there is little need for action and called “absurd” broadcasters reticence to put political ad purchase information online. The localism issue is at the heart of the debate over how much media ownership can be concentrated without sacrificing diversity of broadcast voices.
The FCC ended approved a localism initiative in December, even as it was loosening media ownership rules. A flurry of final comments of reaction was filed this week as the comment period ended.
The initiative could force broadcasters to offer more information on local content to win license renewals and take other steps. Some groups have urged the FCC go farther.
The Campaign Legal Center urged the FCC to require broadcasters put communications with political advertisers about ad purchases on the Web and it joined with Common Cause, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation in countering claims that such actions are unneeded.
The groups called “burdensome” a proposal by broadcasters to instead make the information available only to local residents who show up at the station.
“This raises a number of questions about broadcasters’ true motivation … It suggests that some broadcasters may be less concerned with the burden the new rules impose and more with what the public will find,” the Campaign Legal Center said in its comment.
Another filing supported the FCC requirements that would require closer evaluation of local content. It was filed by the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, which includes the same consumer groups as well as the Media Access Project. The United Church of Christ and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops also joined in.
“The record provided is more than adequate to show that leaving local issue programming to market forces has not in many cases resulted in sufficient local coverage to meet community outreach requirements,” the groups said.
Broadcasters, meanwhile, argued there is no justification for increased scrutiny. The Walt Disney Co. said one group’s call for the FCC to reinstitute limits on networks’ ownership of programming content—the so called “fin syn” rule—wasn’t remotely related to localism and wasn’t justified given the amount of competition in the video industry today.
NBC Universal and NBC Telemundo noted that 700 broadcasters and 900 local service organizations had submitted comment and “99.6% oppose the proposed localism regulations.”
(Editor: Baumann)


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