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Additional Public Interest Obligations on Broadcasters Unnecessary, Unwarranted, Media Institute Tells FCC

FOR RELEASE: March 27, 2000

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute


Washington, March 27, 2000 - There is no reason to contemplate additional regulation of broadcasting and every reason to pursue deregulation for the digital era, The Media Institute said in comments filed today with the Federal Communications Commission.

The Institute was responding to a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on whether broadcasters should be subject to additional public interest obligations as they shift from analog to digital signal transmission. "Strangely, few if any of the issues addressed in the NOI have any relationship to the ongoing transition from analog to digital broadcasting that presumably is the catalyst for the NOI," the Institute noted.

The notion of additional regulation "is supported neither by the statutory language, common sense, nor by precedent." the Institute said.

The FCC should give no deference to the final report of the Gore Commission, the presidential advisory committee established by President Clinton in 1997 to study the issue. The Gore Commission as poorly and inappropriately comprised, lacked adequate resources, and was unable or unwilling to address the central, difficult issues of whether regulation was still warranted at all.

The Gore Commission's final report was "an entirely unsubstantiated wish list by pro-regulatory special interests," the Institute said.

The Institute urged the FCC to develop a plan based on a proposal by Gore Commission member Robert W. Decherd, chairman of A.H. Belo Corp. Under that proposal, one PBS station in each market would retain its analog channel, rather than return it to the FCC, and use it for educational and other public interest purposes. At the same time commercial broadcast television would be deregulated.

The Institute found no basis for more regulation in four areas mentioned in the NOI: multicasting, community responsiveness, enhanced access to the media, and political discourse. "No longer can broadcasting be regulated, consistent with the First Amendment, as a public utility subject to whatever 'good' ideas regulators propose. If 'good' ideas were all it took to 'improve' a free press we ought to start with reform of the supermarket tabloids," the Institute said.

The Institute concluded by urging the FCC to adopt "a new approach focusing on expanding and strengthening public television ... while finally welcoming commercial broadcasting to the ranks of a truly free press."

The Media Institute is a nonprofit research foundation advocating a strong First Amendment, a competitive communications industry, and excellence in journalism. An Institute working group called the Public Interest Council (PIC) followed the work of the Gore Commission and published several papers.