Benton Pushes Public Interest Deadline

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Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton has written the FCC asking it to "elevate" digital public-interest obligations on its agenda.

Benton is a member of the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee. On Nov. 18, the committee approved recommendations for new broadcast public-interest obligations in the digital age that include setting quantifiable obligations and disclosure requirements.

Among the recommended obligations are diversity of DTV programming providers, outlets and employment, closed captioning and video description.

It also asked the FCC to define those new public-interest obligations by May 18, 2006.

"In three years, when analog TV is finally turned off, so too will broadcasters’ mandate to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity be left behind unless the Commission acts to extend meaningful obligations to the digital world," Benton wrote to Martin.

"I write today to ask that you bring clarity to the DTV transition.  On a number of occasions, you have recognized the importance of defining the public interest.  Now as FCC Chairman, you have an enormous opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to act."

Some broadcasters have suggested they would be agreeable to some new digital TV public-interest obligations in return for digital multicast must-carry.

The Benton Foundation is a nonprofit foundation started by William Benton, founder of the Benton & Bowles ad agency and publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Having dealt intimately with the world of "face powder, coffee and soap," he urged the media to make more of itself through education and stewardship of their public trust. Pushing for digital public-interest obligations is one of its current priorities.

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