FUTURE OF MEDIA

Broadcasters See Positives In FCC Proposals

The commission’s 500-page report and recommendations on “Information Needs of Communities” proposes getting rid of some paperwork regulations for stations, including the “enhanced disclosure” form, drop its localism proceeding, kill the fairness doctrine once and for all and suggests some amount of consolidation may be healthy in smaller markets. But it also wants to strengthen its rules regulating video news release disclosure.

An FCC report released today might lead to some regulatory relief for local TV broadcasters.

It suggests that the FCC “reduce paperwork, terminate unnecessary rules and move to an on-line system for public disclosures.”

But at the same time, the nearly 500-page report called “Information Needs of Communities’’ also suggests that the agency beef up its “pay-for play’’ disclosure rules.

Specifically, it suggests that stations not only disclose the source of so-called video news releases or VNR’s on air, but broadcasters should also provide that information online.

As for specific recommendations, the report calls for eliminating the “enhanced disclosure’’ form adopted by the FCC in 2007 and it says the commission should “terminate’’ its localism proceeding.

The report also suggests that any remnants of the fairness doctrine be repealed.

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Local broadcasters were pleased to hear about the report’s call for an end to certain regulations.

“We appreciate that the report suggests moving away from outdated reporting rules. We are open-minded about the new proposals, especially given the productive process by which the report arrived at its conclusions, and will consider them carefully,” said David Barrett, president of Hearst Television.

The FCC’s report is part of a two-year examination by a special task force assigned to determine if anything can be done to fix the troubles facing  traditional journalism in both the print and broadcast media.

The report’s findings were outlined during an FCC meeting Thursday by Steve Waldman. Waldman is a former editor and reporter who was hired to oversee the task force and is the key author of the report.

The report’s findings are also expected to help guide the agency as its re-evaluates its media ownership rules that it began reviewing last year.

The report did not call for removing broadcast ownership restrictions. But it did have offer some “observations” that could be considered encouraging by TV broadcasters in smaller markets that are hoping the FCC will lift its duopoly rules that keep them from owning more than one station in a market.

The FCC report noted: “It might be better to have nine TV stations in a market than 10, if consolidation leads the remaining stations to be economically healthier and therefore more able to invest in local news, information and journalism.”

Indeed, Waldman told the FCC commissioners he was encouraged by the present state of local TV news.

“Local TV news is actually more productive than it has been perhaps ever.  In the past seven years, the number of hours of local TV news has risen by 35%,” he said.

TV stations, he added, “are doing very creative things,” with their news broadcasts. “They are using their multicast channels more creatively [and] they are starting to do mobile applications,” he explained.

Most importantly, he pointed out that TV broadcasters are still the “No. 1 source of news,” in their communities.

Walden also said TV stations are becoming an “increasingly important source’’ of online news.

Waldman’s task force would like to see the FCC lift the requirement that TV stations keep a paper file on the premises listing issues-responsive programming, and replace it with a new streamlined, Web-based form.

Under this new proposal, TV broadcasters could provide programming information based on a composite or sample week. According to the report: “Information could include: the amount of community-related programming, news-sharing and partnership arrangements, how multicast channels are being used, sponsorship identification disclosures and the level of website accessibility for people with disabilities.’’

Another recommendation that could have a favorable impact on local TV broadcasters was the suggestion that the federal government spend more advertising dollars with local media.

“The federal government in 2005 spent roughly $1 billion on advertising, but much of it appears to go to national rather than local media entities,’’ said the report, adding: “Some local broadcasters have argued that this [national budget] could be targeted to local news enterprises without undermining the cost effectiveness of the campaigns, and perhaps even saving taxpayers money. We agree.”

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said he is “very pleased’’ that the report calls for eliminating the enhanced disclosure form. He said he was hopeful that the agency would take an even more deregulatory approach and completely repeal  the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules. “Government should keep its heavy hands off  of journalism,” McDowell said.

But Commissioner Michael Copps was not happy with the report’s conclusion that America’s media landscape is mostly vibrant and there is no overall crisis of news or information. Copps said: “There is a crisis when, as this report tells us,  more than one-third  of our commercial broadcasters offer no news whatsoever to their communities of license.”

According to the report there are 520 TV stations that air no local news at all (258 commercial stations and 262 noncommercial stations).


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