Committed to the First Amendment

June 2 Is None Too Soon

There is a tide in the affairs of the FCC that, taken at the flood, leads on to victory, or at least gets one of many important proceedings out the door.

It is time for the FCC to proceed with revising its broadcast-ownership rules. OK, past time, actually. The "flood" is the thousands of comments already submitted, which Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree characterizes as "astoundingly broad and diverse."

Why not postpone a vote and allow for yet more debate as Commissioner Michael Copps and advocacy groups have called for? For one thing, continuing the road tour of rehashed arguments is unlikely to add anything substantive to the debate. Copps' suggestion that a vote now would be based on "paltry" information does not square with the reams of comment. For another, broadcasters need to know how to proceed with their businesses: either to buy or not to buy (yes, that is the question).

Regulators need to move on to other things as well, like the NASA petition, broadcast flag, digital must-carry, multicasting, cable regs. Besides, in only nine months, it will be 2004, time for the beginning of yet another of these reviews (this one was supposed to have been done in 2002). The FCC can tweak the rules then if the sky has started to fall, or not, if the Cassandras prove Chicken Littles. With a biennial review always just around the corner, nothing is set in anything more permanent than soapstone anyway.

If Copps still wants to talk about rules, there are the cable regs to hash out, which are also supposed to have been reviewed by now. By the time that review is done, it will probably be 2004 anyway, when he can schedule a whole new round of public debates on broadcast regs. Frankly, the next debate should really be in Congress. The subject: Changing it to at least a quadrennial chore lest it becomes commission's full-time job.

Green Light for AMBER

The oft-bashed broadcasting industry and the NAB came up smelling like a rose garden last week. That's where President George W. Bush signed into law a bill making the AMBER Alert a national program. The Alert coordinates and expedites widespread bulletins on missing children, thus improving the odds of recovering them alive. Local AMBER alerts have already led to the safe return of 50 children. The program was created by local broadcasters in Texas following the abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman. The bill's passage would be reason enough for celebration, but last week also marked the 750th capture for America's Most Wanted, whose host, John Walsh, was also a vocal advocate for the AMBER bill. AMW
is the most visible "long arm" of broadcasting when it comes to aiding law enforcement, but it is far from the only one. It was local radio listeners who helped catch the D.C. snipers, and, just last week, an episode of Maury led to the capture of a wanted criminal. Kudos all around.