The FCC today heard from its Future of Media task force, when its head, Steven Waldman presented a summary of its contents at its monthly meeting. At the same time, the task force issued its 475 page report – which spends most of its time talking about the history of media and the current media landscape, and only a handful of pages presenting specific recommendations for FCC action. The task force initially had a very broad mandate, to examine the media and how it was serving local informational needs of citizens, and to recommend actions not only for the FCC, but also for other agencies who might have jurisdiction over various media entities that the FCC does not regulate. Those suggestions, too, were few in the report as finally issued. What were the big headlines for broadcasters? The report suggests that the last remnants of the Fairness Doctrine be repealed, and that the FCC’s localism proceeding be terminated – though some form of enhanced disclosure form be adopted for broadcasters to report about their treatment of local issues of public importance, and that this information, and the rest of a broadcaster’s public file, be kept online so that it would be more easily accessible to the public and to researchers. Online disclosures were also suggested for sponsorship information, particularly with respect to paid content included in news and informational programming. And proposals for expansion of LPFMs and for allowing noncommercial stations to raise funds for other nonprofit entities were also included in the report.
While we have not yet closely read the entire 475 page report, which was tiled The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age, we can provide some information about some of the FCC’s recommendations, and some observations about the recommendations, the process, and the reactions that it received. One of the most important things to remember is that this was simply a study. As Commissioner McDowell observed at the FCC meeting, it is not an FCC action, and it is not even a formal proposal for FCC action. Instead, the report is simply a set of recommendations that this particular group of FCC employees and consultants came up with. Before any real regulatory requirements can come out of this, in most cases, the FCC must first adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or a series of such notices, and ask for public comment on these proposals. That may take some time, if there is action on these suggestions at all. There are some proposals, however, such as the suggestion that certain LPFM rules be adopted in the FCC’s review of the Local Community Radio Act so as to find availability for LPFM stations in urban areas, that could be handled as part of some proceedings that are already underway.