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Statement of The Media Institute's Public Interest Council Regarding Potential FCC Action on Public Interest Obligations for Digital Broadcasters

FOR RELEASE: October 26, 1999

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute
703-243-5700

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 26, 1999)
Background: Vice President Al Gore wrote to FCC Chairman William Kennard on Oct. 20, 1999, urging the Commission to "institute a public proceeding to consider the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters." The vice president cited a report issued last December by the "Gore Commission, "a presidential advisory panel that studied this issue. Gore called the report "the first step toward identifying tangible ways for broadcasters to discharge their public interest obligations in the digital era."

Gore asked the FCC to address four areas: (1) improving the quality of political discourse; (2) disaster warnings in the digital age; (3) disability access to digital programming; and (4) diversity in broadcasting. The Media Institute's Public Interest Council issued the following statement today in response to Gore's comments on the first point, political discourse:

"Putting pressure on the FCC to open a proceeding appears to be the Administration's latest attempt to revive the dubious notion that broadcasters should provide free air time for political candidates. Even the Gore Commission itself, which the Administration set up initially to push for free air time, could not reach consensus on the issue.

"Free air time suffers from serious constitutional flaws, which we demonstrated in written submissions to the Gore Commission. Furthermore, the idea has nothing to do with broadcasters' conversion to digital technology. The problems do not go away if free air time or related schemes to control broadcasters are cast as 'voluntary' measures. As FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth has correctly noted, 'voluntary standards' often is a euphemism for coerced behavior and such standards 'provide a dangerous mechanism for the evasion of statutory limits on [the FCC's] delegated authority.'

"If the FCC does decide to issue a notice of inquiry or take other action, we urge the commissioners to begin from scratch and not rely on the Gore Commission report. As the Public Interest Council has shown, the Gore Commission was marked from the beginning by limitations in its composition, the regulatory biases of many of its members, and its disinclination to consider first principles and the First Amendment in its deliberations. The FCC cannot afford to make the same mistakes."