Barton, Stearns Against Program-Reporting Guidelines

Republican Representatives Warn Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin that Proposed New TV-Programming-Reporting Guidelines May Lead to Satisfying Government, Not Local Interest
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The former Republican chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the ranking member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee warned Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin that proposed new TV-programming-reporting guidelines meant to promote localism may instead promote shows that try to appeal to regulators.

In a letter to Martin, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said that while requiring broadcasters to report programs in various categories may not technically be a direct content regulation, it achieves the same end by creating a "perverse incentive to air programming aimed at satisfying the government, and not local communities."

The FCC scrapped programming guidelines in 1984, citing First Amendment concerns for one thing and cost for another -- concerns echoed by Barton and Stearns in their letter, which left no doubt as to their opposition to the proposal: "Resurrecting these outdated obligations would not only fail to accomplish the stated objectives: It would harm them by shackling broadcasters with costly and unnecessary rules that do not apply to their competitors."

Barton and Stearns also took the opportunity to weigh in against the FCC's proposal of requiring broadcasters to locate their main studio in their city of licenses. Broadcasters have argued that the rule is outdated since communications between a station and viewers is no longer as limited by geography given the rise of the Internet. They also pointed out that it would cost many broadcasters many millions of dollars to relocate facilities they moved based on the FCC's decision to allow them more flexibility in where to locate them.

Barton and Stearns joined what the National Association of Broadcasters called a chorus of concern over the FCC proposals, which the commission is currently seeking comment on. Those included a letter from 23 senators and more than 100 House members with worries about the various localism proposals the FCC is proposing and/or adopting.