Media Bureau Bears Down on Licensing


In news that should please anyone with a license renewal pending, FCC Media Bureau Chief Donna Gregg said Wednesday that one of her bureau's primary focuses in the coming months will be on "streamlining and expediting" the broadcast-licensing process.

In a speech to the Media Institute in Washington Wednesday, Gregg also had a self-determination message for the industry, saying, "the media itself has the responsibility for the kind of service it provides."

"I believe the commission has the role of providing assistance, favorable conditions, encouragement and, when necessary, leadership," she said, but added, "Sometimes the best thing we can do is exercise restraint."

She also said the public must assume its responsibility as informed consumers, with help from the FCC.

Echoing recent comments to The Media Institute by then FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, she said the FCC has "an important role in equipping consumers with the information and the tools they need to make satisfying [media] choices."

Gregg took some tough questions after the speech but was not ready to provide any headlines with her answers.

When asked whether the FCC was trying to "extort" policy conditions by holding up the sale of Adelphia to Comcast and Time Warner, Gregg said, "I don't think I can confirm that," adding that the FCC was not far enough along in the process of collecting information it has requested from the companies, including a second round of questions posed only last week.

As to whether the cable industry is being scared into offering voluntary family-friendly tiers, she suggested it was a voluntary undertaking and commended the industry for the steps it was making.

On whether the industry's creation of a family tier only available on digital is an adequate alternative to mandating a la carte, which the commission has been researching, Gregg said that anything that offers more choice is welcome and that the digital tier is an "important first step."

She said the FCC continues to study violent programming and is working on a report on TV violence--requested by Congress--but had nothing new to report on that front.

When asked why cable adult content was being targeted while the commission remained hands-off toward the Internet, she said that the commission works "one step at a time"  and "does thing where we can get involved most easily."

She refused publicly--or privately, she added--to address a question about her role as CPB General Counsel during the tenure of Board Chairman Ken Tomlinson.

There have been some questions about who was in the loop on Tomlinson's hiring of outside consultants and his handling of the departure of CPB President Kathleen Cox, both of which were criticized in an Inspector General's report.

Gregg also took the opportunity to defend the media from what she said was increasing bashing in, well, the media.

Gregg said she was concerned that the media were a target of "derision and displeasure," citing some historic knocks like former FCC Chairman Newton Minow's "vast wasteland" characterization, and general criticisms like "idiot box" and "chewing gum for the eyeballs," as well as shots from TV reviewers and bloggers.

Gregg, who called herself a media fan, particularly when her Duke Blue Devils were March-ing toward another championship, instead said that the state of the media is "strong," citing the number of "free over-the-air" TV stations (1,749) and radio (13,599), cable viewers (108.6 million), and revenues--$1.3 billion for all media in 2004, according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study, and a projected $1.8 trillion by 2009.

She also pointed to the reliability and resilience of the media, demonstrated by its performance during the recent hurricanes, and its popularity--one-third of Americans' time is spent with some form of media, the majority of that with TV (4.3 hours per day, according to Nielsen).