Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "political ad transparency"

Slow Start to Broadcaster Disclosure, Important Work Ahead

This morning the FCC started a process to bring broadcaster disclosure to modern technology to an essential public disclosure process.  We had understood that this process would start with a more limited "inquiry" proceeding, but that would rapidly move to fruition by the spring so that we would have the benefit of the new and improved disclosure by this summer, in time for the 2012 elections.

We had expected a start in the inquiry proceeding considering new and improved disclosures today.  We supported this slower process with the condition of its speedy resolution on all fronts.  The Chairman and the Commissioners did not publicly promise a date for the start of this proceeding today. We understand that we should expect to see that item early next week.  Without the prompt start of the process, the prompt resolution of it will be impossible.  Journalists and the public will be waiting impatiently as next summer's debates in national and local elections and we all hope to see increased news coverage of civic affairs. 

We are pleased to hear the Commission emphasize the importance of a searchable database, which is a critical element for the data's usefulness to the public and researchers alike.  It was good to see the unanimous recognition by all four Commissioners that moving broadcaster disclosure online is an obvious and fully justified proposal. 

UCC OC Inc. strongly urges members of the public, journalists and scholars to come forward to explain in the upcoming FCC process the value this heretofore hidden information to their work.  We will be vigilant in pursuing the speedy completion of this proceeding.

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Bringing Broadcasters into the 21st Century

United Church of Christ, OC Inc. and its partners in the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition are looking forward to a FCC vote this Thursday October 27 that will help members of the public understand the role of TV broadcasters by improving the relevance of publicly-available information and moving it online by next summer.

Building on years of fact-finding, the FCC is poised this week to start a proceeding that will quickly modernize the current antiquated system of TV broadcaster public files—which members of the public must currently visit in-person at a station’s studio.   “The current system requires someone to travel to an out-of-the-way office, takes valuable staff time of the broadcaster, and produces information of questionable relevance,” said Cheryl A. Leanza, Policy Advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media advocacy ministry, OC Inc.

The new proposed system is based on a streamlined proposal submitted to the FCC over the summer by several members of PIPAC, building on the Commission’s Future of Media Report.  The Report recommended bringing broadcasters into the 21st century by moving disclosure out of the file cabinet and on to the Internet.  In addition, the proposal will reduce the tracking burden from a 365 days per year requirement imposed by the Bush FCC into a statistically-valid sample consisting of two weeks per quarter. 

Under this proposal, citizens and journalists will be able to find out what broadcasters are doing to serve their communities.  Broadcasters that are doing a good job will have a modern platform to demonstrate their achievements.  The FCC’s new system will be a conduit that brings broadcaster information together in a single, easy-to-use place.  The public interest proposal included an option for broadcasters to develop their own categories to showcase content that particularly serves their own communities.  A summary of the streamlined PIPAC proposal is available here.

Most important to UCC OC Inc. and its PIPAC allies is that the FCC’s rules become effective by next summer, in time for the extra interest in broadcasting brought about by the 2012 elections. “We will be able to learn more about what broadcasters are doing to cover the elections than in any past cycle,” said Leanza, “this information will help all communities understand who is doing the best job covering our elected leaders in an increasingly crowded media space.”

The Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition is a loose federation of organizations including:  Benton Foundation, U.S. Catholic Conference, Campaign Legal Center, Media Access Project, Free Press, New America Foundation, and the United Church of Christ, OC Inc. represented by Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Public Representation.

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OC Inc. and PIPAC Push FCC to Enact Disclosure Recommendations from Commission’s Own Report

Today the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Julius Genachowski strongly urging the Commission to take action to implement the modernized disclosure recommendations in its recent comprehensive report, The Information Needs of Communities (INOC).  This report, issued earlier this summer, compiles the most up-to-date and comprehensive review of one of the core areas under the Commission's authority—mass communications—and the Commission's statutory obligations to ensure that the mass media serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. The groups praised the report's top recommendation, to "emphasize online disclosure as a pillar of FCC media policy."

Members of the PIPA Coalition include:  Benton Foundation, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and the Office of Communication, Inc. of the United Church of Christ.

"When the Reagan-era FCC deregulated the broadcasting license renewal process, it emphasized that the FCC's enforcement efforts would depend on input from the public," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Senior Vice President and Policy Director of Media Access Project.  

“These new disclosures will make sure that the system works as intended. Our emphasis here is identifying the core information that members of the public and journalists need to evaluate broadcaster public interest contributions," said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center.  "It's time to get past arguing about burdens and focus on the needs of the American people.  Hopefully, broadcasters will recognize the  benefits of eliminating the old issues/programs list, and embrace a modernized disclosure system as it is intended–a way to move ahead quickly on a compromise basis."

"As an advocate for broadcaster accountability and transparency to local communities for more than fifty years, the United Church of Christ sees improved disclosure as central to the relationship between audiences and the stations licensed to serve their needs," said Andrea Cano, Chair of the United Church of Christ's media advocacy arm, OC Inc. and a former local television reporter.  

"Communities of faith and communities s of color, in particular, need a tool to more meaningfully hold broadcasters accountable to their viewers.” In the letter, the Coalition urges the FCC to expedite adoption of streamlined online broadcaster program reporting by eliminating paper forms and instead implementing the online public file requirements proposed in the INOC Report.  

The Coalition proposes allowing broadcasters, who receive their licenses to use the publicly owned airwaves for free, to vastly reduce the data submitted, but retain its statistically validity by submitting programming data using two "constructed"  weeks per quarter selected by the FCC – a method used by academics in their studies -- using a standardized and comparable format in the following programming categories:  Local News; Local Civic/Governmental Affairs; Local Electoral Affairs; and Closed Captioning/Emergency Accessibility Complaints.  

Broadcasters would also have the option of reporting on other types of programming, should they choose to do so, in areas such as emergency programming, religious programming, and national news.

In addition, because coverage of local electoral issues is critical to an informed citizenry, broadcasters would be required to disclose all local electoral affairs programming aired during the peak campaign periods when the lowest unit charge laws are in effect (i.e., 45 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election).

The full text of letter is here.

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