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React Rolls In On Media FutureReport

Comments came in thick, and
unusually fast, to the FCC's release of its future of media report Thursday
(June 9).

In fact, the FCC's official
release of the report online was accompanied by reaction quotes from, among
others, Hearst Television President David Barrett and National Religious
Broadcasters President Frank Wright, suggesting the FCC had briefed some broadcasters
and others before releasing the report. One source confirmed they had been
approached by the FCC about a Wednesday briefing on the report.

"We appreciate that the
report suggests moving away from outdated reporting rules," said Barrett
in the statement highlighted by the FCC on its site. "We are open minded
about the new proposals, especially given the productive process by which the
report arrived at its conclusions, and will consider them carefully."

The report is not enforceable, but
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski associated himself with it and praised its

The report recommended scrapping
the FCC's enhanced ascertainment rules, adopted in 2007 and requiring a more
detailed accounting of program content reporting, as well as closing the
localism proceeding without taking steps like creating community advisory
boards to weigh in on public interest programming.

The report, and the chairman,
suggested those were burdensome overregulation.

Among its hundreds of pages of
observation and suggestions, the report recommended that noncommercial
religious stations have more flexibility to raise money on-air for charities.
Currently, fund-raising for noncom stations that receive government funding is
confined to their own operations, or, through waivers, for natural disasters
like hurricanes or floods. But it is not allowed for ongoing campaigns like
hunger relief.

"In an age where some have
argued that the federal government has increased its reach over an increasing
number of private sectors of American life, this report is a refreshing change.
It refrains from imposing mandates, but instead recognizes opportunities to
incentivize private media," said National Religious Broadcasters President
Dr. Frank Wright.

The report included cable, and
gave shout-outs for regional news nets and international coverage, while saying
that the leased access system has not worked as Congress intended or produced
significant independent programming and PEG
channels had not panned out in many areas. It suggests the FCC may want to take
steps to make leased access more affordable, pointing out that FCC currently
has an open proceeding on the issue. The chairman at a news conference
following the release of the report had no comment on what the FCC could or should
do about leased access.

"We look forward to reviewing the
Report and exploring these important issues with the Commission and other
interested stakeholders," said National Cable & Telecommunications
Association President Michael Powell. "The cable industry has a long and
proud history of providing the American people with a vast array of local,
regional and national news and information - including the founding of C-SPAN. 
Local cable news channels can be found in communities such as New England, New York,
Florida, Ohio and cable provides support and distribution for channels that
provide extensive coverage of state and local government affairs in Michigan,
Pennsylvania, California and elsewhere.  Our industry's leadership role in
deploying high-speed broadband services and on-demand programming also reflect
cable's continuing commitment to expanding sources of news and information for

The American Television Alliance,
which includes some NCTA members and has been pushing for retrans reform, saw
the report has supporting evidence for its assertion that broadcaster localism
claims are more brag than fact.

"According to a report
delivered today to the FCC, local broadcasters 'do little or no local
programming' and 'about 30 percent air no local news,'" said ATVA in a
statement. "The new report takes the air out of the broadcasters' argument
that squeezing more money out of retrans supports local programming, especially

The report found that 21% of
stations do no local news, with that "one-third" figure including
those who do less than a half-hour, according Steven Waldman, the FCC advisor
overseeing the report.

Media Access Project was not happy with the report. "[It]
appears to contain a sound diagnosis but falls short on recommendations for
treatment said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, MAP
SVP and policy director. "The Commission staff surely is right that government cannot
address many of the problems created by fundamental changes in the business
model for journalism, but the report apparently fails to call for action in one
major area where the Commission could make a difference, which is over-the-air
broadcasting," he said.

He was echoing one of the concerns of arguably the report's
biggest critic. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has made boosting local
stations news and information commitments one of his leading causes.

"It will come as a surprise to few
here this morning that this just-released Staff Report and its accompanying
recommendations are not entirely the bold response for which I hoped and dared
to dream," Copps said. "Instead, the overarching conclusion of the Staff Report
seems to be that America's media landscape is mostly vibrant and there is no
overall crisis of news or information.  But there is a crisis when, as this report tells
us, more than one-third of our commercial broadcasters offer no news whatsoever
to their communities of license. America's news and information resources keep shrinking and
hundreds of stories that could inform our citizens go untold and, indeed,
undiscovered.  Where is the vibrancy when hundreds of newsrooms have been
decimated and tens of thousands of reporters are walking the street in search
of a job instead of working the beat in search of a story? "

Copps vowed to continue to push
for localism and enhanced ascertainment and related issues in his remaining
months at the commission-he is in his last year there-and beyond.