A topic that is garnering increased interest in recent years,
particularly in the age of substantial media consolidation, is the “local role”
of broadcasters in servicing their communities. The FCC continues to mandate
that broadcasters meet certain standards of community service, such as providing
programming of interest to local audiences, playing local artists, and
otherwise “being a part of the community.”
Broadcasters, who believe that market forces should dictate
their local programming, are generally opposed to mandates, arguing that the
bureaucracy of organizing community boards of meeting certain minimal
requirements is a “feel good” ideal that may or may not lead to any true
benefit to communities. Broadcasters also argue that they already meet local
standards, shown by airtime donated for public service announcements and
similar community efforts.
Advocates of “local standards” feel that broadcasters can
easily comply with any FCC mandate, particularly given the broadcasters’
argument that such standards are already being met. Advocates also point out
that broadcasters pay nothing for their broadcasting licenses, suggesting that
reasonable efforts to meet local standard are not a serious burden.
Both sides have valid arguments. Broadcasters are correct
that the mandates are a bit broad, particularly when only broadcasters, as
opposed to cable or satellite provider, are subject to the regulations. Public interest
advocates also have valid points, most notably the argument that news and
cultural programming is becoming homogenized. With so many media outlets owned
by large firms that want to cross-promote and otherwise create efficiencies in
programming, there is little question that local coverage has taken a back seat
in recent years.
While regulations on broadcasters should be strictly
tailored, the FCC requirements regarding community standards are hardly a crushing burden. Indeed, broadcasters
should probably be thankful that the FCC has chosen this route of regulation as
opposed to taking a stricter stance on media consolidation and license renewals
in media markets.