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Discouraging Word Heard on FCC's Public File Vote

WASHINGTON — Not everyone was celebrating Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai's first public meeting vote to relieve cable operators and broadcasters of some public-file reporting requirements.

The item had been teed up with a unanimous vote to propose the changes under then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and was seen as a noncontroversial start to the Pai tenure.

But the National Hispanic Media Coalition said the vote "deprives Americans of meaningful information about the scope of their community’s feedback."

The FCC voted to no longer require TV stations to keep or post viewer letters and emails, while pointing out viewers can still contact the station, and the agency, with their input, which will be taken into account when a station files for a license renewal.

"This is exactly the time that the public is looking to build trust with the media, fostering a productive dialogue that supports accurate coverage representative of diverse voices," Carmen Scurato, NHMC director of policy and legal affairs, said.

“In allowing stations to eliminate the only publicly accessible means to understand how audiences across the country are responding to commercial broadcast coverage, the FCC does a tremendous disservice to all who seek to support journalism that fulfills the public interest obligation it holds,” Scurato said. “We are very concerned that continuing the current practice of putting letters and emails from the public in a file has been deemed too burdensome a task in the face of the urgent need for media accountability.”

At the meeting, Pai said: “There is little, if any, connection between the correspondence file requirement and its purported goal of ensuring that a station serves its local community. After this decision, television viewers and listeners will still be able to communicate directly with a station by letter, email, or through social media. The public will continue to be able to file petitions or objections concerning a television station licensee’s performance at the time the station files its renewal application. Stations will still have every incentive to serve their communities in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”