Broadcasters Blast Localism Boards, Staffing Requirements

Broadcasters big and small are unimpressed with the localism plans floated by the FCC. Specifically infuriating to broadcasters are proposals for local oversight boards, 24-hour station staffing, and a mandate to locate a station’s studio in its city of license.

In filings to the FCC, several broadcasters and the NAB point to constitutional concerns, economic burdens, and the sheer pointlessness of some of the proposals aimed at improving the stations’ service to their local communities.

Possibly most troublesome is the prospect of permanent advisory committees, which some feel would be staffed with meddlers.

“Such committees, having been mandated by the federal government, would undoubtedly feel a great sense of empowerment and authority,” International Broadcasting Network, a Houston-based religious broadcaster, said in a filing. “Community activists would eagerly seek to impose their narrow views of what should and should not be broadcast without regard to the many factors each broadcaster must weigh in making programming choices.”

Bonneville International Corp. said the commission should not interfere with the diverse and dynamic TV marketplace.

“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to localism does not make sense given the extraordinary diversity of market sizes and types across the nation,” the company wrote. “Nor does it make any sense for the commission to compel every station to engage in the same civic dialog with the listeners and viewers in their communities of license. Broadcasters need the flexibility to interact with their listeners and viewers in ways that make sense for each station and its audience and not according to a rigid government mandate.”

To demonstrate its members’ commitment to their communities, NAB filed stacks of handwritten notes from various people—even the scrawlings of children—thanking local stations for charitable activities.

Also, 23 Republican senators signed a letter to the FCC opposing the proposals, and the Educational Media Foundation said the FCC’s notice carried “an especially paternalistic air.”

Not all agree that stations couldn’t benefit from more community oversight. The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters said it supports requiring specific actions by stations to demonstrate they are reaching out to the diverse constituencies within their communities, through both community boards and the return of programming guidelines in the license renewal process.

But NABOB joins with other broadcasters in opposing the requirement for 24-hour staffing of stations—a requirement deemed nearly impossible, or at least very expensive, by smaller and low-power broadcasters.

“Requiring stations to relocate their main studios would impose severe costs on stations with no clear public interest programming benefit,” NABOB said.

The people who buy and sell radio and TV stations agree. “Some of the commission’s proposals will disrupt the financial operations of many broadcast stations, discourage investment in the industry, and undermine the values of many established broadcast properties,” the National Association of Media Brokers said in a filing.