quantitative programming requirements

In a speech given last week, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called for a new regime to review the public interest performance of broadcasters – suggesting that license renewal become a more rigorous exercise for radio and television operators.  In his address called "Getting Media Right, A Call to Action", given to the Columbia University School of Journalism, Copps specifically suggested a "Public Value Test" for broadcasters when they file their license renewals.  If the broadcaster passes the test, the broadcaster would get a renewal.  If the broadcaster did not pass – if it does not show that it has "earned" the right to "use the people’s airways" – then the licensee would get a one year probation period to prove that it should keep its license.  If it does not improve, then the license would be taken and given to "someone who will use it to serve the public interest."

So what would this Public Value Test look like?  The Commissioner suggested that the following factors would be reviewed: 

  1. A Meaningful Commitment to News and Public Affairs Programming – an increased commitment to news, local public affairs, election debates and issues oriented programming would be reviewed according to some quantitative benchmarks.
  2. Enhanced Disclosure – requiring broadcasters to provide more information about their programming performance, on the Internet, as the Commissioner believes that information in the public file is "laughable", and also requiring that the FCC review that information at renewal time
  3. Political Advertising Disclosure – requiring more information about the sponsors of political ads
  4. Reflecting Diversity – looking to increase the gender, ethnic and racial ownership of broadcast stations
  5. Community Discovery – requiring that broadcasters be required to, in some formal way, communicate with their communities to determine local programming needs and the interests of various groups within a station’s community
  6. Local and independent programming – requiring that broadcasters provide more local and independent programming instead of "homogenized music and entertainment from huge conglomerates – the Commissioner suggesting 25% of local programming being dedicated to local and independent programs.  More local PSAs too.
  7. Public Safety – requiring that all broadcasters have a plan to address emergencies and be either staffed during all hours of operation or be otherwise able to respond immediately to any local emergency.

 What’s likely to happen to these proposals?

Continue Reading FCC Commissioner Copps Calls For Stricter Broadcast Station License Renewal Standards – Could It Happen?

As we wrote earlier this week, the FCC is to consider at its meeting next Tuesday a Report on the results of its "Localism" proceeding, and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on the findings contained in the Report.  From rumors going around Washington today, that Notice may ask for comments on tentative findings that would roll back of much of the broadcast deregulation of the last 25 years.   Rumors are that the Commission will be issuing "tentative conclusions" determining that the FCC should re-impose specific ascertainment requirements of some sort (requiring that broadcasters regularly meet with specific types of community leaders to get their input on station programming).  Also, the Commission will tentatively conclude that there should be quantitative programming requirements – that each station do a specific amount of local programming and perhaps specific amounts of news, public affairs other types of programs each week. If a licensee does not meet the requirements, the station’s license renewal application would not be granted routinely by the FCC’s staff, but instead would be subject to an additional level of scrutiny by the full Commission. The Commission is also apparently proposing that it return to the old rules that all stations have a manned main studio during all hours of operation. There is reportedly also a proposal that stations report to the FCC about how they decide what music they play.

Staring in the early 1980s, the FCC did away with many of the specific, detailed programming requirements that had previously bound broadcasters.  These requirements were quite burdensome, especially for small stations and stations in small markets with limited staffs.  Rather than spending their time on broadcast operations, station staff had to make sure that their operations met programming standards imposed from Washington, dictating the government’s ideas of what was good for the station’s audience, even if the station might feel, because of its format or the demographics of its audience that a particular type of programming did not serve the needs of its community.  In the mid-1980s, the FCC concluded that these rules were no longer necessary, as it was concluded that there was enough media diversity that the marketplace would dictate that broadcasters serve their audiences with appropriate content that met the needs of that audience as, if they did not, some other broadcaster would.  The economic incentive of the fear of the loss of audience to a competitor who better served the public was deemed enough to insure that the broadcaster acted responsibly.
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Continue Reading Moving Forward Back to 1980 – The FCC Set to Conclude that Specific Public Interest Obigations are Required for Broadcasters