In the broadcast world, if you stick around long enough, what was once big and then faded away will no doubt come around once again. Whether its the resurrection of prime time games shows that faded in the 50s to become big again today, or the regulatory landscape – it all comes around again. In comments made to an oversight hearing of the US House of Representatives yesterday, Chairman Martin stated that there is an item circulating through the FCC proposing to require that broadcasters file in their license renewal applications more detailed information about the types of public interest programming they provide. Until the mid-1980s, broadcasters had to specify the percentage of their programming that was comprised of news, public affairs and "other" public interest programming, as well as the number of public service announcements that the station broadcast. These specific requirements disappeared in the "deregulation" of the 1980s, but from the statements made yesterday, they may now be making a return if Chairman Martin and the Democratic Commissioners can agree on a set of rules to be imposed on broadcasters.
We’ve written about various proposals to require specific, quantifiable public interest obligations of broadcasters in the context of the recent digital radio order. We also wrote about the long-outstanding proceeding to quantify public interest obligations of television broadcasters that was mentioned in a recent decision denying a license renewal challenge (and implying that a decision was coming soon). Whether the Chairman’s mention at yesterday’s hearing of the upcoming "item" was a reference to these two proceedings, or to some entirely new effort to re-regulate broadcasters, remains to be seen. But the "post-card" renewal that was adopted in the 1980s, which has continued to grow in size and complexity over the intervening years, may well grow significantly in the near future.
And that may not be all – the frequency of the renewal is also in question. Commissioner Copps has been calling for a return to a three year renewal cycle (see our post about his proposals, here), rather than the eight year cycle that currently exists. That call was repeated at yesterday’s hearing. So watch these developments carefully – and see what develops in this coming election year, when political points are often scored by cracking down on perceived problems, whether or not they exist.