Diversity in Television: An FCC Principle Now Being Reconsidered



An op-ed on the FCC review of retransmission rules and their potentially destructive impact on low-income audiences whose access to pay TV and high-speed broadband is limited due to affordability issues.

Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on
Huffington Post

A founding principle of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is protecting the public interest in communications – in television, radio, internet and new emerging mediums. In a country of increasing diversity, the public interest is not a “one size fits all” proposition. In the United States of 2016, the public interest must serve a Spanish-speaking mother in Los Angeles as well as it serves a rural rancher in South Dakota or a millennial urbanite in Brooklyn.

As an industry, broadcast television has long served the largest number of Americans with its mass, free, over-the-air broadcasts.

For this reason, Media Alliance finds it troubling that the FCC’s current re-examination of the rules for exclusivity may jeopardize local broadcast television as it exists today. The Commission is in the process of reexamining rules which allow broadcasters to negotiate the terms of use for broadcast content to be disseminated to cable providers.

As it stands, broadcasters count on the revenue stream that comes from content negotiations with pay-TV providers. If the current system is upended, some local stations across the country will face the very real possibility of having to shut down due to a lack of adequate funding, because they are not being compensated for their own content.

If stations were forced to shut down, it would be the stations that do not garner the most viewers – including stations that serve minority communities, for example. Spanish-language broadcast networks – such as Univision or Telemundo – are often not viewed at the high levels of their English-language counterparts such as NBC or CBS, simply because many communities have fewer Spanish-speaking residents. Yet, these stations are sometimes the only avenue for low-income families who cannot afford other types of media to get their news and information: from severe weather alerts, to community events, to a roundup of local and national news. If these stations were forced to shut their doors because of fewer viewers, many families that depend upon them could be quite literally left in the dark

The current exclusivity rules preserve diversity in broadcast programming. And while there is nowhere near enough diversity, taking actions to further reduce it in order to increase profit levels for cable providers is not in the public interest.

Media Alliance has long been interested in protecting diversity in media, and holding government accountable for any action taken to decrease diversity in favor of increased corporate profits. It is clear that any action taken by the FCC to change these rules will have a disproportionately negative impact on small, over-the-air broadcasters, many who are minority-owned or serve minority audiences.

We believe that the current exclusivity rules should be preserved by the FCC. Any change to these regulations is a win for Big Cable and a terrible loss for small broadcasters across the country and the local communities in which they serve. The “public interest” that the FCC must protect includes Americans who have affordability challenges with pay TV and high-speed broadband access and the FCC must recognize this when considering how it should act on this important issue.

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, based in Northern California. Media Alliance is a member of TVfreedom.org


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