Recommendation 2: Voluntary Standards of Conduct

Recommendation: The National Association of Broadcasters, acting as the representative of the broadcasting industry, should draft an updated voluntary Code of Conduct to highlight and reinforce the public interest commitments of broadcasters.

The Advisory Committee believes that most broadcasters feel a strong commitment to the public interest and their responsibilities as public trustees, and behave accordingly. To reinforce public service interests and standards, the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a "Code of Conduct" that set out appropriate principles and standards, and recognized those stations that adhered to the Code. The Code was abandoned in 1982 after the Department of Justice objected to certain aspects of the Code's advertising provisions. (See Section II and Appendix B for more on this history.)

A new industry statement of principles updating the 1952 Code would have many virtues. The most significant one is that it would enable the broadcasting industry to identify the high standards of public service that most stations follow and that represent the ideals and historic traditions of the industry. A new set of standards can help counteract short-term pressures that have been exacerbated by the incredibly competitive landscape broadcasters now face, particularly when compared to the first 30-some years of the television era. Those competitive pressures can lead to less attention to public issues and community concerns. A renewed statement of principles can make salient and keep fresh general aspirations that can easily be lost in the hectic atmosphere and pressures of day-to-day operations.

To ensure that broadcasters fulfill their obligations as public trustees, we endorse self-regulation by knowledgeable industry people. This could serve as an effective tool to minimize government regulation. To that end, we recommend that the National Association of Broadcasters, acting as the representative of the broadcasting industry, draft a new set of principles or statement of standards. The Advisory Committee hopes that the NAB will develop and recommend self-regulatory standards to and for the industry. The standards should be drafted and implemented by the NAB and the industry, preferably with input from community and public interest leaders, without pressure, interference, or direct or indirect enforcement by the government. The public, the marketplace, and the court of public opinion can then judge their efficacy.

What might a set of Standards of Conduct look like in the digital age? We include in Appendix B a model draft, done by an Advisory Committee working group under the leadership of Professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago Law School. Another model we have included is the Statement of Principles adopted by the NAB Board of Directors to replace the old Code, which can be found in Appendix C.

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