Fairness down – localism next?


City Journal editor Brian C. Anderson took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to continue the Fairness Doctrine debate. In so doing, he pointed out some of the absurdities of proposals to foster broadcast localism. In particular, he noted one of the provisions being kicked around as particularly absurd – the establishment of a local citizen’s advisory board for each station in the US.

“Localism is wildly impractical,” he wrote. “How would board membership be decided? Would liberals sit on the board of a conservative station broadcasting in an urban area? Or would, say, an Islamic community leader sit on the board of a Christian station that broadcast in an area with a large Muslim population? And what kind of power would these FCC-mandated boards wield? Would stations be able to reject their advice without jeopardizing their licenses? What seems all too likely is that groups of professional activists would colonize these community panels and demand that their preferred issues be covered.”

Anderson also noted that a station is in fact serving its local community when it brings in programming from outside the community – you can tell, because local citizens are deliberately tuning it in and listening to it.

RBR/TVBR observation: We have occasionally fielded calls in the past from prospective station owners who want to know how to get started – we could just sense they wanted to get their own favorite programming out there, even if that meant a format based around a musical subgenre as obscure as “songs of the garage store repair shop wrench passer” or a documentary series such as “the ancient art of constructing, tuning and maintain the left-handed nose flute.” We always knew these well-meaning but misguided souls were headed for failure if they ever did overcome huge odds and make it onto the airwaves.

Any good broadcaster knows that personal taste can only be indulged so far when programming a station – and that the result of failure to appeal to a certain proportion of the local population was a going out of business sign.

If a station wishes as a voluntary measure to host members of its loyal audience for bull sessions, we think that’s a great thing. A mandatory group with nebulous powers, on the other hand, is a prescription for futility at best and disaster at worst. Anderson is absolutely on target in attacking this proposal.