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Former FCC Chair Quello Calls Localism Broadcasters' 'Lifeblood'

Former broadcaster and former Federal Communications Commission chairman and commissioner James Quello defended the industry and took aim at public-interest groups Thursday.

Quello -- who keeps his hand in as an industry consultant at the age of 90-plus -- was responding to the broadcast-localism issue that bubbled up in Washington Oct. 31 during an FCC hearing, including calls for tougher and more quantifiable public-interest standards.

"Government mandating localism for broadcasters is like government mandating breathing for human beings,” he told B&C. "Localism is the very lifeblood of broadcasting. Everyone should realize that not only the success of broadcasters, but their very survival, relies on serving and attracting their local audiences as measured by impartial public audience-rating services."

The National Association of Broadcasters' Marcellus Alexander made a similar point during the hearing, saying that it was in broadcasters’ financial as well as civic interest to serve communities of viewers who could turn the channel or turn to other media.

"In the case of networks or station groups," Quello said, "survival relies on attracting an essential national gross number of measured local audiences.”

While groups like Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Media Access Project have been highly critical of the effects of consolidation on localism, from the dearth of minority ownership to the quality of local news, Quello argued: "It should also be noted that even well-meaning professional public-interest activists do not represent the overall public interest. They represent their own private version of the public interest, which they have a constitutional right to do. Sometimes they provide useful programming proposals and sometimes they urge excessive, unconstitutional government mandates or controls to further their own private-interest agenda."