In our recent summary of the Commission’s order on Digital Radio, we wrote about the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that raised specific proposals to adopt new rules regulating the public interest obligations of radio broadcasters. These proposals included the possible requirements for a standardized disclosure form for a stations public service programs, limits on a station’s ability to originate programming from locations other than the station’s main studio, and possible limitations on the current ability of stations to operate without manned studios. A recent Commission decision reminds television broadcasters that there is another proceeding – one six years old – that proposes many of the same restrictions on television broadcasters. Does the recent mention of this proceeding that so closely parallels the recent radio proposals indicate that some action may soon be forthcoming on the TV proceeding?
The TV proceeding was mentioned in an FCC decision released last week rejecting Petitions to Deny that had been filed against a number of license renewal applications for television stations in Wisconsin and Illinois alleging that the stations had not adequately served the public interest through the broadcast of issue responsive programming, especially programming covering election issues. In rejecting those Petitions, the FCC stated that its ability to second guess the editorial discretion of a licensee was limited by the First Amendment and by the Communications Act’s prohibition against broadcast censorship. In this case, the FCC said that the showing made by the Petitioner was not sufficient to demonstrate that the stations had not served the public interest of their communities. However, the decision noted that the Commission was considering quantitative standards for evaluating the public service of broadcast licensees, citing to the long-pending rulemaking proceeding, and implying that the evaluation of these licensees might have been at least somewhat different had these proposed standards been in place.