McDowell warns about reviving old localism regs


FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said that localism is something that broadcasters more than ever need to do to survive. The survival motive will outweigh any old-fashioned localism mandates the FCC can revive.

In an OpEd in The Daily Caller, McDowell said that a local presence is what differentiates broadcasters from many other competing entertainment sources, and that broadcasters needed to use that advantage. “The smart ones are doing just that by offering local news and other locally oriented programming that generates interest and loyalty among their viewers and listeners.”

But he expects that there will be, in the context of the Quadrennial Review, an attempt to revive old rules. He wrote, “But some proponents of regulation don’t believe that business survival alone is sufficient to ensure that broadcast stations serve their communities. They want mandates that would, directly or indirectly, require broadcasters to air the government’s idea of the kind of programming a local audience should want or need.”
He noted some of the proposals that are out there – shorter licensing terms, citizen advisory boards, and local program mandates.

McDowell said, “…all of us should be asking why the Commission needs to devote scarce time and resources to reviving any old localism rules at all. Broadcasters today face a level of competition for audiences that was unimaginable 40, 20 or even 10 years ago. They must adapt to meet the needs and desires of their communities if they want to stay alive.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Every so often a station faces a license challenge due to a format change, and invariably, the FCC dismisses the challenge, pointing out that it has no say over a station’s programming. So if the FCC can’t regulate it, there is no point spending millions of dollars and countless hours collecting the information.

And this is the way it should be. People want to listen to Rush Limbaugh, even though he’s not local. The FCC has no business punishing a licensee for making him available to their local audience.

The simple fact is that every dollar and every minute a broadcaster spends complying with FCC rules is a dollar and a minute it cannot spend on serving its local audience; beyond that, it is an unproductive dollar and minute because it cuts into the station’s ability to make the money it needs to survive, all to give the FCC information it ultimately has no real use for.