FCC Ponders More Localism, NAB Responds

Bloomberg columnist Cindy Skyrzycki writes that a recent FCC proposal has National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) members talking as they meet this week in Las Vegas:

Under proposals published Feb. 13, the Federal Communications Commission would require television and radio station owners to reconnect with their markets at a time when technology allows remote broadcasting and shared programming. The industry doesn’t like the idea.

How broadcasters serve the public interest in exchange for free use of public airwaves has been debated for decades. The stakes have increased as media consolidation and technology have allowed stations to operate without a local presence and with ownership far away. The FCC said it was rethinking its past reliance on “market forces” to decide programming.

The NAB wonders why cable and satellite television companies aren’t being similarly pressured. I don’t think they have much to worry about. Remember the Michael Powell road show back in 2003, when thousands of citizens lined up to complain about everything from disappearing farm reports, a dearth of local news and, most famously, tornado warnings going unreported because no humans were around to answer the “local” station’s phone?

People had their chance to vent; after that, nothing happened. It’s been five years, and the best the FCC can come up with is pablum about “better serving local communities”? That train left the station in the early 1980s, with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. The so-called public airwaves are now governed by the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules.

One interesting tidbit in the FCC’s February 13 document caught my eye, however:

Also under consideration is whether stations should set up and consult local advisory boards to determine “significant community needs” and whether radio playlists exclude local artists. Comments are due April 28.

If the FCC passes this, does it mean I can force Q-106 to play Stonewall’s new record? I’m not holding my breath.