Does the transition from analog to digital transmission also demand an accompanying transition in how local broadcasters fulfill their public interest obligations?
To FCC commissioner Michael Copps, the answer leaves no room for misunderstanding: “Our work on the digital transition remains unfinished,” he said in a Sept. 26 statement following the adoption of rules spelling out broadcasters’ obligations to transmit children’s educational programming in a DTV multicast environment.
“We are overdue for a similarly constructive dialogue on the more general public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters,” he said.
According to Copps, the commission’s “signals are crossed” in letting broadcasters know what they “must do to discharge their public interest duties in the digital age.” The issue must be examined, he said.
“So it’s time to address now how the digital transition can enhance political discourse, improve access to the media for those with disabilities, and increase localism, diversity and competition on the people’s airwaves,” he said.
Copps and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, the two Democrats on the commission, have frequently raised the public interest obligations of broadcasters since Former Chairman Michael Powell spearheaded the effort to liberalize media ownership rules.
Whether or not Copps’ call for FCC rules that spell out the public interest obligation of broadcasters in a DTV era will advance is unclear. However, rhetoric, if not rulemaking, is likely to be ratcheted up as Chairman Kevin Martin shepherds the latest move to rewrite media ownership rules.
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