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First Mediaworks


FCC Proposes New Localism Requirements

WASHINGTON -- January 24, 2008: The FCC has issued a Report on Broadcast Localism including some tentative conclusions and a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on several proposals.

The report notes that, although some broadcasters devote significant time to "locally responsive programming," in the FCC's series of six field hearings on localism, many commenters "raised serious concerns that broadcasters' efforts, as a general matter, fall far short from what they should be."

The report continues, "Specifically, the record indicates that many stations do not engage in the necessary public dialogue as to community needs and interests and that members of the public are not fully aware of the local issue-responsive programming that their local stations have aired." To address that, the FCC is proposing rules changes that, it says, will "promote both localism and diversity."

The report does point to several broadcasters' localism efforts, citing Univision's KCOR-AM/San Antonio's providing contact information for the station during its public-affairs programming and Alaska-Juneau Communications' KINY-AM/Juneau, AK's use of its website to encourage listener feedback on community needs and interests, and its regular interviews with business and government leaders.

But, despite the efforts of individual stations, the FCC says many of the written comments it has received in the proceeding see a need for broadcasters to do more.

The commission says, "New efforts are needed to ensure that licensees regularly gather information from community representatives" and tentatively concludes that "each licensee should convene a permanent advisory board made up of officials and other leaders from the service area of its broadcast station. We believe that these boards will promote both localism and diversity and, as such, should be an integral component of the commission's localism efforts."

The commission is looking for comment on whether and how the boards would alert the stations to important issues, how board members would be selected, how to ensure that the boards represent all segments of the commmunity, and how often station representatives would meet with the board.

The commission is also looking for comment on whether it should create formal rules or guidelines covering what many stations are already doing to get community input, including "town hall" meetings, providing community contact phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and listener surveys.

For its part, the FCC will update its "The Public and Broadcasting" publication, which stations are required to keep in their public files and make available on request, and initiate an "enhanced disclosure" proceeding that will help increase public awareness of TV licensees' localism efforts in particular. It's also asking for comment on whether the enhanced disclosure should apply to radio as well as TV.

With regard to station staffing, the report notes that the FCC is currently seeking comment in another proceeding on a proposal that radio stations be staffed during all on-air hours and says the commision is "still considering" such a requirement.

"Requiring that all radio stations be attended can only increase the ability of the station to provide information of a local nature to the community of license," says the report. The commission is extending its request for comment on a continuous staffing requirement to TV stations as well.

Looking at the amount and nature of "community-responsive programming" broadcasters produce, the FCC acknowledges efforts by, among others, Entercom's KNSS-AM/Wichita, which airs three hours of local news every weekday, and Jeri Lyn Broadcasting's KHTS-AM & FM/Berryville, AR, which devotes 30 percent of the broadcast day to news and information programming, and mentions Clear Channel/Albany, NY's Clear View half-hour community-affairs program. But it goes on to note that many commenters "feel that broadcasters are not complying with their obligation, as public trustees, to air sufficient programming that is responsive to local needs and interests."

The FCC has tentatively concluded that it should re-introduce renewal-application processing guidelines designed to ensure that all broadcasters provide some locally oriented programming. For example, renewal applications by licencees that have met or exceeded the prescribed minimums for public interest programming would be processed by the Media Bureau, while other applications would have to be considered by the full commission.

The FCC is also seeking comment on whether it should return to its pre-1987 rule that required that a station's main studio be within its community of license, and on a standardized quarterly reporting form for local programming that would apply to both radio and TV.

The commission is also looking into the prevalence and effects of voicetracking and seeking comment on "whether the commision can and should take steps to limit the practice, require disclosure, or otherwise address it."

The commission says, however, "We do not believe that the record supports our prohibiting the use of national music playlists by licensees, nor do we believe that we should affirmatively require stations to give airplay to local artists." But it does want comment on whether licensees should be required to provide data on how much local music they play and on how they compile their playlists. The data would be used when a station's license renewal is considered.



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