FCC Media Future Report Rejects Enhanced Ascertainment: Sources

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The Federal Communications Commission's report on the information needs of communities -- formerly known as the "Future of Media" report -- will suggest that its Media Bureau take into account whether allowing stations to combine forces could increase their ability to provide that community information.

That is according to FCC sources familiar with the report. "When the FCC is looking at the ownership proceeding," the report says, it "should consider whether a combination increases or decreases reporting capacity," according to one of the sources. The report is meant, in part, to help inform the FCC's review of its media ownership rules, which is currently under way.

In what will not be music to Democratic commissioner Michael Copps ears, the report does not endorse an enhanced disclosure regime -- currently the subject of a years-long but dormant proceeding--beyond recommending putting TV stations' public files online, and even then says they should be given time to do so.

That electronic transfer will mean more work for broadcasters, but many will be pleased that the report does not adopt Copps' model of a public values test or community advisory boards for vetting stations' public interest mandate. Those were considered "overly regulatory and overly burdensome," said the FCC source, who added that broadcasters were "really involved in the process" and seemed "pretty positive" about the result.

Copps has argued for a four-year, rather than the current eight-year, license renewal cycle and for a return to the days when the FCC was charged with actively ascertaining whether broadcasters were serving the public interest. "If a station passes the Public Values Test," he argued in a speech at Columbia last year, "it of course keeps the license it has earned to use the people's airwaves. If not, it goes on probation for a year, renewable for an additional year if it demonstrates measurable progress. If the station fails again, give the license to someone who will use it to serve the public interest." Copps wanted the list of values being tested to include "meaningful commitments to news and public affairs programming," enhanced political ad disclosures, more diversity, and more local and independent programming.

The reports' findings are being outlined Thursday, June 8, at the FCC's monthly open meeting.

According to those sources, the report essentially concludes that some broadcasters do a good job in local news, and some don't.

Steve Waldman, the FCC advisor overseeing the report, had signaled that it would include the observation that local TV news is still an important source for a community's information needs, and make a few recommendations, but be mostly a survey of the current state of the landscape. Sources confirm the several-hundred page report is primarily devoted to that survey, which includes local cable news channels -- it is expected to give a shout out to Time Warner Cable's New York One for doing a really good job in local news -- as well as TV and radio stations. But the recommendations do not apply to cable.