Saturday, December 22, 2007

FCC should couple deregulation with requirements for local reporting, journalism deans say

As it continues to deregulate broadcasting and allows new cross-ownership with newspapers, journalists should press the Federal Communications Commission to require a "commitment of resources to original local reporting on public affairs," and seven journalism-school deans and the director of Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy write in The New York Times today.

Their op-ed piece was prompted by the FCC's 3-2 vote to exempt large markets from the 41-year-old rule against one company owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market. The writers note that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin "offered a journalistic justification for this move: broadcast profits would help pay for the substantial news-gathering staffs at newspapers. But local television and radio stations should be doing their own news gathering, rather than merely serving as support systems for news gathering by newspapers. Besides, if Mr. Martin were really so passionate about news gathering, he wouldn’t have restricted the F.C.C.’s action to media properties in big cities. Don’t small-town news organizations need help, too?" (Yes, they do, and we're glad to see the mention.)

The writers say broadcast deregulation "seems to have had the effect of reducing the resources available for original broadcast reporting, especially about public affairs. . . . Stations generally have smaller news staffs today than they did in the era before deregulation. That represents a real loss for American democracy. . . . We do not believe that the market can be absolutely trusted to provide the local news gathering that the American system needs to function at its best. . . . Our profession needs to cast its reluctance to discuss broadcast regulation aside, and to let its voice be heard, loud and clear — on behalf of local reporting." Amen.

The writers are Roderick P. Hart of the University of Texas, Thomas Kunkel of the University of Maryland, Nicholas Lemann of Columbia University, John Levine of Northwestern University, Dean Mills of the University of Missouri, David Rubin of Syracuse University, Ernest Wilson of the University of Southern California and Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. (Jones, a native of Greeneville, Tenn., is a member of the national Advisory Board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.)

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