Kirby: Preserving Localism Is No Laughing Matter

Kathleen Kirby spoke up for the value of local news Wednesday night (March 11) in Washington.

She was preaching to the crowd, since the audience was mostly news executives who strongly share that sentiment. But she also used the opportunity to push back against the FCC and chairman Tom Wheeler.

Kirby was receiving the First Amendment Leadership Award from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation, which goes to "a business or government leader who has made a significant contribution to the protection of the First Amendment and freedom of the press."

Kirby, cochair of the media group practice at Wiley Rein and First Amendment counsel to RTNDF parent, the Radio Television Digital News Association, has been on the front lines of defending the First Amendment, including fighting the indecency finding against Eminem (and winning), though she joked that her epitaph would read that she had won that high-profile battle, but died trying to get cameras in federal courts, one of her passions. She did help get same-day audio of the Bush V. Gore Supreme Court oral argument, which was a first.

Last December, at the Federal Communications Bar Association chairman's dinner, Wheeler drew sustained laughter after playing a montage of TV station anchors reading from the same script for the same prepackaged story about social networks for dogs, his way of mocking broadcasters invocation of localism in their defense of the service.

Kirby said that she wasn't saying there was no truth in the chairman's stand-up routine, but she wanted to urge the agency as it considers "new media ownership proposals, spectrum allocation, or any form of regulation that would unduly burden broadcasters or single them out as the attempt to compete on equal footing with other vdieo and audio providers, not to undervalue the importance of local broadcasting to our news and information ecosystem. There would be nothing funny about depriving our local communities of the free, irreplaceable services that their local station and their reliable one-to-many technology provide,” she said.

The statement drew strong applause, including from the National Association of Broadcasters table.

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.