Recently, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the Commission is considering issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposes changes that will impact the processing of applications. The FCC proposes to prioritize the review of station applications seeking approval for license renewal and assignments or transfers of control when those applications are submitted by broadcasters that provide locally originated programming. The proposal is intended to support and incentivize local journalism by rewarding broadcasters’ commitment to meeting the needs and interests of their local communities.
It is an interesting concept, and we are waiting to see a draft of the proposal. A similar concept existed years ago. The FCC had specific quantitative guidelines governing the amount of news and local programming provided by stations. Stations meeting the quantitative guidelines could get renewals approved by the Media Bureau. Those that did not meet the requirements would have renewal applications reviewed by the full FCC, thereby delaying approval.
To meet the guidelines, stations were required to submit lengthy program logs and performance data. This process was eliminated for radio in 1979 and for television in 1984. In its place, stations were required to place a quarterly issues programs list in their public file.
There are several questions to be answered. First, how does prioritizing renewal or transfer applications promote local journalism? Second, will the FCC reinstitute burdensome quantitative programming “guidelines.” The paperwork burdens imposed on stations could add additional regulatory costs that harm the financing of local journalism. We will keep an open mind but believe that we should avoid a “Back to the Future” regulatory regime.
You can see Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s press release here.