As Congress considers what, if any, new public interst obligations to tie to the switch to digital, the Campaign Legal Center has released an in-house study they say shows that broadcasters public affairs programming is "practically nonexistent."
The study examined over 20,000 hours of programming on 91 digital commercial braodcast stations in 16 media markets in the run-up to the presidential election (Oct. 26-Nov. 1). Its loaded title kills any suspense about the outcome: "Broken Promises: How Digital Broadcasters Are Failing to Serve the Public Interest."
The study concludes that only .3% of the airtime was spent on local public affairs, compared with 8.8% on reality shows, 6.9% for paid programming, and 2.5% for celebrity mags.
The study also concludes that 98% of all HD programming is entertainment oriented. "There is little evidence that broadcasters are using their multicasting capabilities to provide enhanced public interest service to the local communities to which they are licensed," said the group.
A DTV transition bill is being considered in a House hearing Thursday, May 26. An early draft does not contain any public interest obligations though some broadcasters have shown a willingness to deal on the issue in exchange for requiring cable systems to carry all of broadcasters free DTV multicast services.
The FCC declined to require multicast-must carry.
The study was conducted by the Legal Center's Media Policy Program, one of the founders of the Public Interest, Public Airwaves coalition, which wants digitial broadcasters to have to air a minimum of three hours of civic or electoral speech per week.
The Legal Center has long pushed broadcasters for free airtime for candidates.
The full report is at http://www.campaignlegalcenter.org/attachment.html/Broken+Promises.pdf?id=1379.