The best way to serve the public interest in the crowded modern media arena is to make sure that free over-the-air broadcasting can operate in a regulatory framework in which it can compete with other media which are free of the public interest burden broadcasters carry every day, said panelists at the FCC’s third ownership workshop. If broadcasters are allowed to compete on a relatively level playing field, diversity and localism will follow.
Day Three of the FCC’s Ownership Workshop series featured the Broadcasters and Industry Panel. And one thing we can say is that pretty much everybody on all three FCC panels agrees that the Review should be a data-driven process. Mainstream broadcasters say that the data suggests that prudent and targeted ownership rule modifications are necessary to keep the industry competitive with various MVPDs and the internet. Minority broadcasters say their numbers are not high enough and the current economic and capitalization climate is driving the number down even further.
NAB’s Jane Mago said that all the FCC needs to guide its review of the rules is the Communications Act of 1934, which says the FCC must take competitive realities into account when drawing up its ownership rules. Nobody would argue, she said, that there is vastly more competition for over-the-air broadcasting now than ever, and broadcasters need modest rule relaxation in certain areas if they are going to be able to continue to provide free entertainment, news and emergency service to the public. She noted that among all the media, only broadcasters have a public interest requirement, and suggested the FCC must level the playing field in other ways to allow broadcasters to serve it.
David Barrett of Hearst Television addressed the need for television stations to be able to double up in all markets, realizing operational and technological efficiencies, to compete in a multi-channel universe. George Mahoney, from multimedia print/broadcast group Media General, said it the time to eliminate the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban was long past due.
Both Jessica Gonzalez of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and James Winston of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters made the case that minorities and women are grossly underrepresented in the ranks of owners. Gonzalez said the FCC’s separate diversity proceeding was a good thing and should continue to move forward independently of the Review, but added that diversity must be constantly kept in mind as the proceeding moves forward. Winston attacked both Arbitron’s PPM system and capital providers that are moving on minority licenses.
RBR-TVBR observation: We will emphasize the main broadcast argument as put forth by the National Association of Broadcasters –that protecting the ability of broadcasters to compete in the new media marketplace should be the key to the Review. NAB says if that is protected, diversity and localism will follow. If not, diversity and localism will be impossible.
Diversity of ownership is still a major concern, and rightly so. It is also being addressed under a separate focused proceeding. We would point out that the one change that could be brought to bear on the situation, and as far as we can tell everybody agrees on this – is reinstatement of the minority tax certificate. And the FCC can’t do a thing about it – it is up to Congress to take this step, and it should.