Media Institute ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Martin Proposals

First Amendment Think-Tank Unhappy with FCC Chairman’s Take on Broadcast Localism

A First Amendment think-tank backed by major media companies is "deeply concerned" about Federal Communications Commission proposals on broadcast localism that it said are "antithetical" to First Amendment protections.

In written testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee, FCC chairman Kevin Martin outlined proposals to deal with concerns about the effects of media consolidation on localism.

They included the following: "Licensees should establish permanent advisory boards in each community (including representatives of underserved community segments) with which to consult periodically on community needs and issues," and, "The commission should adopt processing guidelines that will ensure that all broadcasters provide a significant amount of locally oriented programming."

And there are suggestions that they go further, dealing with issues of radio programming (prompted by the issue of payola) and studio location relative to cities of license.

“Establishing amounts or percentages of particular types of programming that broadcasters need to carry to ensure the renewal of their licenses would coerce stations into selecting and airing content in these government-preferred categories," said the Washington-based Media Institute, the board of which includes representatives of Viacom, News Corp., Time Warner, Tribune, Viacom, NBC Universal, The Washington Post and Belo.

"It is disheartening to think that in this age of unprecedented media abundance, the commission is contemplating an unnecessary regulatory regimen that not only hearkens back to the last century, but will most likely be found unconstitutional by the courts," the Media Institute added.

Martin circulated the proposals to the other commissioners and hopes to vote on them in its Dec. 18 public meeting as part of an effort to bring the media-ownership-rule review to a close.