Broadcast Fears Growing Over Flag


Broadcasters are keeping up the pressure in opposition to digital copyright exemptions for their news and public-affairs programming.

The Federal Communications Commission is in the final stages of work on so-called broadcast-flag policies, a system that would protect digital over-the-air broadcasts from the kind of Internet piracy that has plagued the music industry.

CBS affiliates, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations were the most recent to weigh in with the FCC in the past few days. NBC affiliates have also raised objections.

CBS affiliates said that because local news was the "primary source of revenue" for so many stations, a broadcast flag with a news/public-affairs programming exemption posed a financial threat to the industry.

"For local affiliates, a broadcast flag that does not protect local news is like no broadcast flag at all," wrote Bob Lee, chairman of the CBS affiliates advisory board, in an Oct. 8 letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell.

Powell told reporters he wanted the agency to adopt rules this month and predicted little partisan friction.

In theory, the exemption would allow a computer user to store broadcast-news and public-affairs programming as files and transmit them over the Internet.

An FCC source indicated that it may not be reasonable if the broadcast flag prevented someone who appeared on the evening news from e-mailing the clip to family and friends.

In a Oct. 8 letter to FCC Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree, public broadcasters urged the commission to eschew an exemption because a carve-out for news and public-affairs programming would require the agency to define news, perhaps raising First Amendment questions.

"The FCC would be unnecessarily injecting content analysis into what should be content-neutral technological rules," the public TV groups said.