FCC’s Martin Outlines Localism Initiatives

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said he proposed that local TV stations be able to pre-empt network programming any time they want to air programming vital to their local communities, and that radio stations have a person on the premises during all hours of operation.

That was among a raft of proposals he said he made to the other commissioners to address the issues of the effects of consolidation on broadcast localism.

Martin was speaking at the outset of the FCC's sixth and final hearing on broadcast localism stretching back to 2003. He is looking to wrap up that and a general media-ownership-rule review.

Martin said broadcasters are generally doing a good job in serving their local communities but it has "become apparent" that some aren't doing all they could or should.

He added that one proposal his fellow commissioners have yet to vote on would require broadcasters to more explicitly tell the FCC how they were meeting their public-interest obligations, with that information placed online, as well as in public files.

Martin also reiterated his support for tax certificates that would help minorities to buy stations; multicast must-carry rules; leasing digital-TV spectrum to small business, which he said would boost diversity; and possible changes to cable program-access rules.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein asked Media Bureau chief Monica Desai how many witnesses at the FCC's public hearings had said consolidation was good for localism. She could not say, but Martin conceded that it was only a handful, and he could remember only one, in San Antonio, and only that one because of the boos from the audience.

Martin and Adelstein had a bit of a dust-up during the hearing. Adelstein said he had not been allowed to talk with a staffer who had been dealing with minority issues. Martin countered that he was free to talk with Desai, who was his point person on the issue, while Adelstein had wanted to talk to the person who had overseen those issues under his predecessor, which Martin said would not have given Adelstein a sense of where the Martin commission was.

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.