Benton Asks FCC to Walk the First Amendment Talk When Considering Broadcast Ownership Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released a proposal for sweeping changes to U.S. broadcast ownership rules. Following may be attributed to Benton Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss:

From the earliest days of broadcasting, federal regulation has sought to foster the provision of programming that meets local communities' needs and interests. The FCC’s rules have been rooted in the core values of localism, competition, and diversity. Any changes in FCC rules should be aimed at expanding the multiplicity of voices and choices that support our marketplace of ideas and that sustain American democracy and creativity. Specifically, FCC rules should:

  • Encourage local ownership of media outlets;
  • Create more competitive local markets manifested through increased responsiveness to community needs and increased diversity of programming; and
  • Promote ownership opportunities for minorities, women, and people with disabilities.

At the October 25 FCC Oversight Hearing in the House, there was a great deal of lip service to the First Amendment. Today’s action does not walk that talk. Diversity advances the values of the First Amendment, which, as the Supreme Court has held, “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.” Previously, the FCC has elaborated on the Supreme Court’s view, positing that “the greater the diversity of ownership in a particular area, the less chance there is that a single person or group can have an inordinate effect, in a political, editorial, or similar programming sense, on public opinion at the regional level.” Today’s proposal fails that commitment. Instead of the proposal before us now, the FCC should be considering policies that encourage:

  • Viewpoint diversity to ensure that the public has access to “a wide range of diverse and antagonistic opinions and interpretations.” FCC rules should facilitate opportunities for varied groups, entities, and individuals to participate in the different phases of the broadcast industry;
  • Outlet diversity, opening control of media outlets to a variety of independent owners;
  • Source diversity so the public has access to information and programming from multiple content providers; and
  • Program diversity so broadcasting delivers a variety of programming formats and content.