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Media Institute Troubled by DTV PSA Mandate

The Media Institute is cautioning the Federal Communications Commission not to mandate digital-TV-education public-service announcements.

Media Institute president Patrick Maines told FCC chairman Kevin Martin in a letter Monday that such a move would be "government-mandated content" that "raises serious First Amendment questions."

Under pressure from Congressional Democrats including House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman has said that the FCC may mandate PSAs, including primetime, and require cable bill-stuffers about the transition.

But The Media Institute, backers of which include major media outlets, said, "Requiring all television broadcasters in the nation to disseminate a state-sponsored message would constitute a wholly unwarranted intrusion into broadcasters’ control over program content and would presumptively violate the First Amendment."

Broadcasters have pledged to voluntarily air PSAs, including in primetime, but they said they need the flexibilty to tailor their messages to specfic markets.

"The government can supplement these voluntary efforts by using its own speech to reach the viewing public in a variety of ways and by supporting the extensive and flexible DTV public-education plans formulated by broadcasters," Maines said.

If the Bush administration gets its way, the FCC will have more money to get that message across. It proposed giving the agency $20 million for DTV education.