FCC Launches Localism Inquiry

The Federal Communications Commission has released chairman Michael Powell's promised notice of inquiry on broadcast localism, which it said is intended to "begin a dialogue with the public on how the commission can best ensure that broadcasters fulfill their obligations to serve their communities of license."

At least one commissioner said the NOI was, in part, an attempt to do more talking than acting on the issues.

Powell pledged to launch the NOI last summer. It was in part a way to try and separate content issues from the structural regulation rewrite he was trying--and ultimately failing--to preserve.

Among the laundry list of issues the FCC wants to talk about are voice tracking, sponsor identification, license renewal processes, emergency communications, political programming, news and public affairs, and a lot more.

While the commission said the network-affiliate relationship was one of the issues that could be addressed in the inquiry, it will instead deal with it in the context of the Network Affiliated Station's Alliance petition, which it has pledged to act on "Expeditiously," though since it has been in the works for three years now, that characterization may be moot. Commissioner Kevin Martin in a separate statement said he hoped the commission would honor that pledge.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps supported the idea of the inquiry, but said that it had been a mistake to separate the ownership rules from the localism inquiry, and that this new round of questions could delay action on earlier inquiries into essentially the same things.

"I must dissent to those sections that concern issues that have already been raised in other long outstanding proceedings or that are otherwise ripe for decision by the Commission, or at this late juncture, overripe," he said. "There are issues here where we should be acting, not asking more questions, and putting them off will raise questions in some minds about our seriousness of intent to resolve such matters."

Copps said those include toughening licensing renewal reviews, increasing political and civic discourse and addressing the issue of media concentration, which he said "cannot be divorced from localism," as Powell has tried to do.

Comments are due Sept. 1, 2004; reply comment Oct. 1.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.