Broadcasters Balk at Report Cards

Time, money, First Amendment concerns in FCC info request
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TV broadcasters are on the same page in reaction to a recent FCC request for additional reporting information. They say the agency’s desire for more detailed reports would be a paperwork and financial burden.

In comments to the FCC, the National Association of Broadcasters provided a laundry list of reasons why TV stations should not have to provide detailed programming notes. And with this report card focused on local news and public affairs programming, Radio Television Digital News Association officials say they will be spending too much time filing paper rather than stories.

Noncommercial broadcasters say they should be given a pass because of the reports they already file with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and because they are already so obviously serving the community that it should go without reporting, as it were.

The FCC has tried before to create a new standardized form, but abandoned the effort. This time around, the idea is to create a centralized, searchable online database, which the FCC says could include sponsorship ID, political files or information on joint service and sales agreements.

The NAB is also concerned that coming up with a form full of programming categories broadcasters have to fill out will be akin to a social science exercise in content coding. “Thousands of untrained coders working at separate stations across the nation will not be able to make uniform or consistent categorization choices over time, and therefore, the effort could not generate valid and reliable data on which the Commission officially could rely,” the NAB said last week.

The NAB also has a First Amendment bone to pick with the proposal—namely, that even under the intermediate scrutiny that applies to broadcasters, content-based reporting using government-labeled categories would not pass muster.

The RTDNA, which represents TV news personnel, says the reporting burden would work against the FCC’s goal of meeting communities’ information needs. The RTNDA told the FCC that taking resources away from newsgathering and putting them toward bookkeeping would “divert precious time and attention away from those undertakings the Commission purports to hold dear—the production of local news and public affairs programming.”

In a joint filing, the Association of Public Television Stations, CPB and PBS told the FCC it would be “unduly burdensome and redundant” to make them adhere to any new requirements put on commercial stations, pointing out that the FCC cut them some slack on kids TV reporting requirements in 1996 “in view of the commitment demonstrated by noncommercial stations in general to serving children.”

The Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, which has been pushing for standardized forms and more reporting requirements, argues that the forms will actually make it easier for broadcasters to report what it considers key information. The PIPAC also says that more specific reporting will prevent examples of issue-responsive programs some stations produced for the current, more broad, issues/programs list—including, in one instance, a contest to win a Dairy Queen cake.

The FCC is still in the inquiry phase of its proposal, but has signaled it is serious about creating a database of station information for easier access by the public.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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