September 22, 2000
|Re:||In the Matter of Standardized Disclosure requirements for Television Broadcast Licensee Public Interest Obligations, MM Docket no. XX-XX|
Although I join with my fellow Commissioners in adopting this NPRM, I do so with the concerns and reservations raised in this statement.
Undoubtedly, there are important questions concerning the application of existing public interest obligations to the new digital medium. These new digital possibilities raise questions as to what facet of a multi-dimensional offering the public interest duty runs. However, as I stated in the NOI, I question why the mere use of digital technology, rather than analog, justifies new public interest obligations.
The NPRM also seeks comment on a number of matters which have no nexus with the transition to digital, and I question whether this is an appropriate proceeding to raise these issues. Nonetheless, I address my substantive concerns about those matters here.
While standardizing the information contained in the Issues/Program List may appear to make good sense, the recommendation that certain categories of programming be identified on the form raises serious First Amendment concerns. Selecting one program category over another and then requiring broadcasters to list the programming aired in that particular category involves the Commission in content-based regulation. It would require this Agency to make value judgments as to what programming we deem to be in the "public interest." The Advisory Committee proposes categories that are unclear or duplicative. For example, what distinguishes "public affairs programming" from "programming that contributes to the political discourse"? If these categories were established, broadcasters may then be coerced into airing programming that fits into these "public interest" categories.
I am also troubled by what appears to be a slow step backwards to a subjective review of a broadcaster's public interest obligations. Categorizing programming is but one example, and the reintroduction of the ascertainment process is another. The Commission eliminated formal ascertainment of the needs and interest of the community in 1984. It did so presumably because it concluded that market incentives would ensure licensees air programming that serves the needs and interests of the community. While I appreciate the distinction between the prior, more formal ascertainment process, and the one proposed in the NPRM, the fundamental question is the same. I question the policy rationale for resurrecting this requirement at all.
I am equally troubled by the Item seeking comment on whether a broadcaster's community service activities should be considered when assessing whether a licensee has served the public interest. I applaud broadcasters for their civic involvement, but I seriously question how we would possibly make use of this information. One can only imagine the subjective analysis to follow. I ask to what end? To deem a blood drive a more worthy effort than a contribution to a homeless shelter?
Finally, I would strongly encourage a detailed cost/benefit analysis on the recommendation that broadcasters post on their Internet sites their entire public inspection file. This is neither a trivial nor an inexpensive burden, and it requires a thorough review and analysis.