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McCain to reintroduce campaign-coverage bill

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he
plans to introduce a bill next week to require a minimum quota of
candidate-centered broadcasts, as well as a voucher system for political ads.

The bill is similar to one he introduced in the last Congress, he said. That
bill would have required broadcasters to provide two hours of candidate-centered
programming each week in the run-up to elections.

It would also have levied a spectrum-usage fee on broadcasters, about 1% of
their gross revenues. The money would be deposited in a "broadcast bank" and
doled out to the political parties.

The parties then would give vouchers to candidates to buy ad time on TV and
radio at market rates.

McCain also said he plans to revisit the issue of how many low-power FM
stations should be allowed in light of a new study saying that more of those
stations might be added without interfering with the signals of existing
full-power stations.

That study was mandated by Congress after it voted to limit the number of
LPFMs, citing potential interference issues.

That news was by way of introduction to a hearing on broadcaster public-interest obligations and localism in McCain’s committee Wednesday.

The hearing contained plenty of venting at the industry, from cries against
indecency and centralcasting to calls for better ad rates for campaign spots.

On the indecency front, an episode of Fox's Keen Eddie came under
heavy criticism for a scene involving horse semen and a prostitute, particularly
since its lead-in was the teen-targeted American Juniors, one
legislator said. The show had been part of testimony from Media Research Center
president Brent Bozell.

Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps was among the hearing witnesses -- McCain
pointed out that Republican members were invited but declined -- and used the
opportunity to list six things the FCC should be doing that he says it is not:

  1. Undertake an effective license-renewal process -- he said he plans to hold a
    series of town meetings on the issue.
  2. Community discovery -- require owners to visit with their audience to
    ascertain its needs.
  3. Get tough on indecency -- Copps said he will propose holding a proceeding on
    whether there is a link between consolidation and indecency. He also would
    like to see National Association of Broadcasters Presdient Eddie Fritts and National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs convene
    a TV summit on protecting kids from indecency.
  4. Encourage minority ownership.
  5. Examine digital-TV public-interest obligations.
  6. "Confront substantial reduction in independent programming."

Among the suggestions from the lawmakers on possible changes: mandating a
family hour; decreasing the time between license renewals; and requiring a showing
of public interest at renewal time.

Barry Faber, vice president and general counsel at Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., defended his company’s
centralcasting strategy under heavy fire from, among others, Sen. Byron Dorgan
(D-N.D.). He said it had allowed Sinclair to add news personnel and do news
where it would otherwise be economically infeasible.

He also disputed the characterization of the FCC’s 2 million comments on the
ownership proceeding as a "spontaneous" expression of opposition.

He said that from what he could see on the FCC Web site, they were mostly
form letters created by three of four organizations, including hudnerds of
thousands from the National Rifle Association.

McCain responded that he had personally been impressed by the comments he
personally had received on the issue.