Localism mandate gets airing in WaPo


The FCC’s 12/18/07 proposal to increase reporting requirements and record-keeping at broadcast stations with an eye to improving local service is usually considered inside baseball by the mainstream media, with coverage generally confined to the usual trade suspects. But today, the Washington Post actually got into the act.
The article, by Cindy Skrzycki, is called "Broadcasters scramble to change the channel on FCC’s community mandates." It notes some of the particulars of the FCC rulemaking proposal and some of the reasons broadcasters find them antiquated and unfair.

NAB EVP Dennis Wharton is quoted, questioning why broadcasters are being singled out for this special attention at a time when their business model is coming under assault by a wide variety of new competitors. "Given the seismic changes and increased fragmentation in today’s media world, we would respectfully ask how increasing mandates on broadcasters — and broadcasters alone — will serve the public interest." Why not cable? Why not satellite?

The broadcast community has often argued that the road to success in the business is in fact to super serve the local community. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein turned that around, however, saying that "it should be the sleeves off the vest…" since they claim they are supposedly already doing what the FCC asks.

RBR/TVBR observation: The fact that this is the United States of America, which has a constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech, has generally guided the FCC’s oversight of the licensees operating in the broadcast spectrum. The rules and regulations that broadcasters are bound by are for the most part technical, and the key thing the FCC is trying to avoid is harmful interference. The Commission has very little to say about what a broadcast company chooses to air on its chunk of spectrum.

All of which makes the FCC’s localism mandate proposal a pointless exercise. Broadcasters will fill out the new forms (and already there is at least one company coming out with software to automate the task). The FCC will collect it, forming an ever-increasing mountain of information that it won’t have time to process, and won’t have authority to act on even if it does.

We understand why many want to encourage broadcast localism. In fact, we strongly encourage broadcasters to serve their local audience to the utmost, because that is the surest path to enduring success. This is particularly true in a time when most of the new competition is not local at all. The bottom line, however, is that the FCC’s new mandates will not encourage localism, they will just make work and waste time. That is why they should be scrapped.