Washington - Dec 18, 2007 - The Federal Communications Commission has stepped into new territory with its Dec. 18 actions to try to ensure that broadcast stations offer programming responsive to the needs and interests of the communities that they are licensed to serve. The FCC's Report on Broadcast Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sets forth proposals to increase local programming content and diversity in communities across America. In its review of these issues, the Commission accrued more than 83,000 written comments and heard the testimony of 500 panelists offered during the six field hearings on localism conducted throughout the country.
The Report makes tentative conclusions regarding the following proposals, for which it seeks comment:
Qualified LPTV stations should be granted Class A status, which requires them to provide three hours per week of locally produced programming
Licensees should establish permanent advisory boards (including representatives of underserved community segments) in each station community of license with which to consult periodically on community needs and issues
Commission adoption of renewal application processing guidelines that will ensure that all broadcasters provide some locally oriented programming
The report also states that the Commission will better educate members of the public as to the obligations of broadcasters and the Commission's procedures so that viewers and listeners can become more actively involved in ensuring that stations offer locally oriented programming; and investigate other ways to assist prospective radio licensees to identify suitable available commercial FM spectrum in the communities in which they wish to broadcast, including authorizing the development of software to do so.
The report notes that, as temporary trustees of the public's airwaves, broadcasters are obligated to operate their stations to serve the public interest, including their airing of programming responsive to the needs and issues of their station communities of license. The actions and proposals contained in the Report are intended to ensure that the nations' broadcasters will meet this responsibility.
Radio magazine comment: It will be interesting to see how this action plays out. The NAB has already stated concern over the issue, saying that this carries "grave First Amendment implications" and is based on "a false notion that radio and television stations have abandoned [their] commitment to serving communities or have stopped offering distinctive local programming."
The action has good intentions in mind, and portions of it may provide a shot in the arm to stations to remember their public interest duties, but the plan may backfire in the end.