Commissioner McDowell on indecency and ownership rules


In a Q&A session with NAB President & CEO Gordon Smith, plus some audience questions, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell (R) gave attendees at the 2010 Radio Show his views on some key regulatory issues concerning broadcasters.

McDowell is expecting the recent indecency ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to go to the US Supreme Court, which he welcomes. “It will give us clarity,” he said. But he doesn’t expect the Supreme Court to rule until mid-2012.

In the meantime, many indecency complaints pending at the FCC are in a sort of limbo. But McDowell noted that few broadcasters have ever taken advantage of the 10 pm to 6 am “safe harbor” to air indecent programming. “It’s a terrific opportunity for broadcasters to say what are your standards,” the Commissioner said in the period when the government standards are in doubt.

McDowell repeated his concerns about the staff report being prepared at the FCC about whether journalism is “broken” and whether government should try to fix it. “Journalists should be the watchdogs of government, not the other way around,” said McDowell, whose parents were both journalists.

The Commissioners won’t be voting on that staff report, but McDowell is concerned that its findings might somehow overlap into the FCC’s proceeding on ownership rules.

What is the future of radio? McDowell said there will be more Internet streaming in cars. “That’s a threat. It’s also an opportunity,” he said. In his view, it gives radio stations an incentive to be hyper-local.

“I don’t buy into it being a dinosaur medium,” the Commissioner said of radio, but he urged broadcasters to keep up with technology. If you don’t have a smartphone app, he said, get one.