McDowell Questions Specter of Re-Applying Old Program Reporting Regs

“Why are we considering placing these proverbial albatrosses around the necks of traditional media precisely at this ‘tipping point’ in history?”
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Days before public comments to the FCC are due on its localism proceeding, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is questioning the need to turn back the clock and mandate that broadcasters revive program ascertainment procedures and repeal the main studio and unattended operations rules.

Those are a few of the topics in a wide-ranging set of proposals released by the commission to ensure broadcasters are living up to their public service obligations.

In a speech before the Quello Communications Law and Policy Symposium this week, McDowell cited the proliferation of the Internet, cable television channels as well as the demos at the 2008 NAB Show of mobile video.

Given the media choices available, he questioned why “policymakers like us at the FCC” are dusting off decades-old regulations to impose on broadcasters.

“Why are we considering placing these proverbial albatrosses around the necks of traditional media precisely at this ‘tipping point’ in history when they can least afford a regulatory disadvantage vis-à-vis unregulated platforms like the Internet?” he asked.

Between 1973 and 1984, when the old ascertainment policies were in effect, stations had to maintain demographic profiles of their communities, consult with community leaders and report programs they aired to serve those populations. Whether or not stations complied with the regulations came into play when a broadcaster applied to make a major facility change or for license renewal.

The potential Orwellian implications of such policies are chilling, the commissioner argued.

Comments to MB Docket 04-233 are due Monday, April 28.

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