E&C Republicans want FCC to back off


At issue are the proposed remedies to enhance broadcast localism. Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Energy & Commerce Committee and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Ranking Member of the related Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, have fired off a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pointing out that certain rules were eliminated over 20 years ago for a reason.

The duo points out that the FCC concluded in 1984 that broadcasters would continue providing local public interest and non-entertainment programming without reporting requirements out of market necessity. They also questioned the wisdom of once again invoking the main studio rule, saying that broadcasters “…would suffer substantial costs with no corresponding benefit if the FCC now reversed course.”

"While the processing guidelines proposed in the Localism Report may not directly regulate broadcaster content, they create a perverse incentive to air programming aimed at satisfying the government, and not local communities," they wrote. "The First Amendment concerns that caused the Commission to abandon programming guidelines two decades ago are just as relevant today."

According to the NAB, 28 senators and about 130 representatives have now voiced concerns about the FCC’s initiative.

RBR/TVBR observation: Almost everybody is in favor of strong local programming, and strong broadcasters emphasize it because that is how you achieve market dominance. Local programming is the meat of the issue.

The First Amendment grants the right of free speech to all Americans. That means that the government is not allowed to tell anybody what they may and may not say, including broadcasters. It deprives the government of teeth to deal with programming issues.

As tempting and tantalizing as the meat may be in this case, the FCC’s lack of teeth is fatal from a regulatory standpoint. Even if you favor government intrusion into broadcast programming, the FCC can do nothing more than gum the meat, which will lead to a highly unsatisfactory result for all concerned. This initiative should be called off on grounds that it cannot work.