Statement by Common Cause Vice President for Advocacy Celia Viggo Wexler, National Association of Broadcasters Convention

Statement by Common Cause Vice President for Advocacy Celia Viggo Wexler

National Association of Broadcasters Convention, April 19, 2005

Public Needs More Than Casino Capitalism from Broadcasters

In the next few months, Congress is expected to pass legislation that will greatly speed the transition from analog to digital television.

This convention is showcasing all the profit-making potential of digital TV. Las Vegas seems the right environment to talk about the digital slot machine and the huge payoffs that are possible from new digital programming streams. But the public needs more than casino capitalism. And that’s why we’re here.

The members of the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition are reminding broadcasters that serving the public has to be part of the equation of any new television era and new technology. Because the public continues to depend on local TV news for most of its information, new broadcast technologies, whatever they may be, must provide viewers with the resources they need to be citizens.

Public service is a big tent with many components, all of which we will be lobbying Congress to include as we move toward digital transition. We will be urging Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to:

Stipulate quantifiable minimum standards of local news, public affairs programming and coverage of congressional, local and state elections. as part of broadcasters’ obligation to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity;

Make it easier for the public to know whether broadcasters are serving them. We want disclosure of all local news and public affairs programming on broadcasters’ web sites, and an explanation of how these programs serve the needs of local communities;

Increase broadcaster accountability by reducing the term of a broadcast license from eight to three years;

Require broadcasters to return the analog spectrum quickly, the auction of which can provide revenues for a trust fund supporting public broadcasting and other forms of noncommercial television;

Free up empty channels in the TV bands for unlicensed community wireless networks offering affordable broadband access to low-income and minority families and other underserved populations;

Mandate media companies to report on the impact of any proposed mergers on the level of employment of the merged companies in each affected community, the impacts on local programming, particularly local news and public affairs, and diversity of editorial viewpoints and service to underserved communities, including racial and ethnic minorities and the disabled.

It is vitally important that the public wins in this high-stakes transition from analog to digital. New technology has the potential to enhance democratic discourse, but only if the right decisions are made in the coming months. This is one gamble the public cannot afford to lose.

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