Digital Beat v.1 no.7

Gary Handman (
Mon, 17 May 1999 12:04:40 -0700 (PDT)

>X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Pro Version 2.1.2
>Approved-By: Kevin Taglang <kevint@BENTON.ORG>
>Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 16:47:51 -0400
>Reply-To: lists@BENTON.ORG
>Sender: The Benton Communications Policy Mailing List
>From: Kevin Taglang <kevint@BENTON.ORG>
>Subject: Digital Beat v.1 no.7
>Comments: To:
>The Digital Beat v.1 no.7
> Introduction
> The Rights Of Viewers Are Paramount
> A Commitment To Localism
> Meeting The Needs Of Democracy
> Fair And Balanced Treatment Of News, Public Events, Emergencies, And
> Controversial Issues
> Diversity
> Accessibility
> A Safehaven For Children
> Education
> Disclosure Of Public Interest Activity
> Spectrum Fees
> Legislation on the Horizon?
> A Call to Action
> Nothing in this [Act] shall be construed as relieving
> a television broadcasting station from its obligation to
> serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.
> -- Telecommunications Act of 1996
>The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law February 8, allowed the
>Federal Communications Commission to loan a valuable national resource --
>broadcast spectrum worth an estimated $70 billion -- to an affluent
>industry, the television broadcasters of America. In return the public is to
>receive abstract gains -- more efficient use of the spectrum and better
>television reception. A growing number Americans are asking if that return
>on the public's investment is enough.
>Since the mid-1930s the public has allowed broadcasters to build a business
>on rent-free public property -- the broadcast spectrum -- in return for the
>promise from television station owners that they will provide a service
>that will benefit the public. Broadcasters receive a quasi-property right to
>the spectrum that they are allocated -- their channel -- and agree to serve
>as public trustees, to "serve the public interest, convenience, and
>Now broadcasters are building a new and improved business on more rent-free
>property while still holding their original allocation of spectrum. They say
>they need the additional spectrum to make the transition to digital
>television, but they are not committing to the date they are going to give
>their original allocation back. This is a great deal for broadcasters. But
>is it a good deal for the American public?
>The real payback for the public, called the public interest obligations of
>broadcasters, has not been reviewed by the FCC for many years and since that
>time we have seen historic changes in the broadcast industry including:
>* passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the most sweeping rewrite
>of telecommunications law since 1934,
>* rampant consolidation in broadcast ownership,
>* the introduction of digital technologies that allow broadcasters to
> * one or more high quality signals with crisper pictures and
> CD-quality sound that rival the experience of a movie theater
> * multiple (perhaps six or more) signals that rival today's
> analog signals so that in the same spectrum space now used to
> air one program, a broadcaster may now air many;
> * services like subscription TV, audio signals, and pay-per-view;
> * non-broadcast services such as paging, data, or wireless telephones
>A Presidential advisory committee on public interest obligations (PIAC or
>the Gore Commission) has also studied the potential of digital television
>and delivered recommendations for new standards to Vice President Gore. The
>Committee's recommendations are available at (
>Unfortunately, the White House has not delivered PIAC's recommendations to
>the FCC yet. The FCC, in turn, seems hesitant to address the recommendations
>before an official transmittal.
>In January, Benton and the Project on Media Ownership released results of a
>poll showing that Americans are in favor of asking television broadcasters
>to do more in return for the free use of public airwaves. The public would
>like to see more educational programming for both children and adults, a
>reduction in the number of commercials during children's TV shows, and
>financial support from broadcasters to support public television and
>noncommercial programming. The results of this poll should be a clear
>indication to policymakers that Americans expect more from broadcast
>television than they are receiving today -- and more from the investment
>they have made in television station owners.
>On May 3, a broad-based, national coalition of organizations, People for
>Better Television, launched an effort to convince the FCC that it should
>reexamine the compact between television station owners and the communities
>they are licensed to serve -- your community. Benton joins People for Better
>Television in again calling for a public rulemaking in this matter and we
>suggest that the FCC base its proceeding on the following principles which
>we call The Viewers Bill of Rights.
> As the public owns the airwaves, the FCC should license use
> of spectrum for broadcast while retaining the public's free
> speech rights as listeners and speakers and our collective
> right to have the media function consistently with the ends
> and purposes of the First Amendment.
>This principle is consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling in the landmark
>case Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission: "[T]he
>people as a whole retain their interest in free speech by radio and their
>collective right to have the medium function consistently with the ends and
>purposes of the First Amendment. It is the right of the viewers and
>listeners ... which is paramount." The Court has reaffirmed this finding on
>several occasions, most recently in 1994.
> Broadcasters are licensed to serve communities, not markets.
> The needs of communities should be ascertained and addressed
> by fair, balanced, and ample programming. Issues of
> importance at the local, state, federal, and international
> level must be given significant coverage. This coverage should
> be substantive and issue-oriented.
>Local programming is the keystone commitment of America's broadcast system
>and the basis for the licensing scheme under which every broadcaster
>operates. The nation has hundreds of commercial broadcasters in place not to
>rebroadcast national programming, but to be responsive to the interests,
>convenience, and necessity of the communities they serve. This compact
>between local broadcasters and their communities -- that a broadcaster
>receives a license to act as a public trustee of the public interest -- is
>expressed in both court rulings and Federal Communications Commission policy.
>What's local about local broadcasting now? An analysis by the Benton
>Foundation and the Media Access Project of a two-week period in late
>February and early March 1998 found that the answer is "not much."
>Broadcasters in five markets chosen to represent conditions in small towns
>and big cities around the country are providing almost no programming that
>addresses local issues in the communities they serve. The numbers are
>* In the five markets combined, 40 commercial broadcasters provided 13,250
>total hours of programming -- just 0.35% (46.5 hours) were devoted to local
>public affairs.
>* In three markets -- Nashville, Tennessee, Spokane, Washington, and Bangor,
>Maine -- not one commercial station aired any local public affairs
>* 35% of the stations surveyed provide no local news; 25% offer neither
>local public affairs programming or local news.
>* A total of two hours of local public affairs programming was available
>between 6:00pm and midnight, when viewership numbers are highest. Just two
>stations aired any local public affairs during this time period.
>The Benton/MAP study, What's Local About Local Broadcasting, is available
>online at (
> The needs of our Nation's democracy demand fairness of
> debate in political coverage. A well-functioning democracy
> depends on access to information and ideas. An informed
> citizenry is vital to a democracy that prizes both
> accountability and deliberation. The needs of an informed
> citizenry must be addressed above all others. During
> elections, viewers have a right to coverage of competing
> candidates and viewpoints. Candidates should be given the
> opportunity to address voters through a variety of formats
> including, but not limited to, debates, interviews, features
> and grants of "free air" time.
>The President's Advisory Committee, PIAC, found that:
> That there are serious problems with American political
> campaigns and the system of campaign finance is indisputable.
> The "barriers to entry" for candidates to run, especially to
> challenge incumbents, are high and growing. A major reason is
> the burgeoning costs of getting messages across in a cacophonous
> society that consists of large and diverse districts and states.
> The quality of political discourse is declining. The problems in
> the campaign finance system are rooted in existing laws, the
> changing nature of communications in our society, and many other
> complicated factors. One of them is the growing role of television
> in campaigns, and its emergence as the single largest category of
> spending in elections. Television advertising expenditures increased
> 800 percent between 1970 and 1996, more than any other category in
> campaign finance. [Norman J. Ornstein, CAMPAIGN FINANCE:
> AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE 15-16 (1997)]
>The Committee went on to suggest:
> In a democracy that aspires to be deliberative, television can do
> a great deal if it deals with political issues in a serious way.
> Engagement with serious issues can be educative; it can increase
> citizen involvement in political issues; it can make citizens
> better able to choose. Efforts in this regard should be designed
> not just to reduce some of the problems faced by candidates
> with limited resources, but also as a method to ensure that the
> broadcasting system, private as well as public, helps to promote
> democratic ideals.
> Communities have a right to fair and balanced treatment
> of news, public events, emergencies, and controversial
> public issues. Broadcasting serves educational and
> democratic functions. To permit the genuine understanding
> of problems and disagreements, citizens need access to
> local and national news through factual, fair and unbiased
> reporting that is clearly distinguished from advertising.
>PIAC drafted a voluntary code for broadcasters that spells out ideal
>"principles and aspirations" for covering elections and delivering news in a
>digital era. "Alas," wrote Lawrence Grossman in the Columbia Journalism
>Review, "no TV station operating today would be able to meet the standards
>of what is actually a remarkably good model for a TV news code. It urges
>every stations to devote significant time to coverage of substantive
>election issues, as well as ballot initiatives and referendums. It proposes
>that stations avoid emphasizing "the sensational and the
>prurient," and stop giving "excessive or undue attention to sensational
>political or personal accusations, or issues of 'who is ahead.'"
> Diverse voices shall find expression on the airwaves. The
> strength of our democracy flows from the diversity of our
> voices. Broadcasting should provide a platform through which
> the public will express its views on issues of community
> interest. As a window to the world for viewers, broadcasting
> should mirror religious, demographic, racial, and ethnic diversity.
>In joining People for Better TV, the Project on Media Ownership stated that
>"the ownership of television by giant, global conglomerates tends to
>encourage budgetary choices that favor immediate profits over long-term
>investments in the corporation, the industry and individual communities.
>Dimply put, the media companies that own today's TV are largely run by
>financial managers who care far more about this quarter's dividends than
>about the vitality of entertainment programming or the integrity of news
>The National Organization of Women notes how the lack of diversity in
>ownership is reflected in the lack of diversity on the face of TV. Some 87%
>of all sound bites from "experts" on television are provided by men; 92% of
>these men are white. And only 10% of the stars on children's educational
>programs are female.
>PIAC reported to Vice President Gore that "it is undeniably a good thing for
>the broadcast industry as a whole to present a wide range of information,
>opinion and entertainment programming, including programming that responds
>to the needs and interests of minorities and other underserved communities
>in our society." The Committee recommends that "broadcasters take the
>opportunity presented by the innate flexibility of digital television to
>enhance substantially the diversity available in the television marketplace."
> Programming must be accessible to all citizens. Persons
> with hearing and seeing disabilities have full rights to
> free, over-the-air broadcast programming.
>Millions of American have disabilities and all too often society has tended
>to isolate these individuals. The Americans with Disabilities Act, however,
>was enacted with the purpose to 1) provide a clear and comprehensive
>national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals
>with disabilities; 2) provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable
>standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
>and to 3) ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in
>enforcing the standards established on behalf of individuals with
>PIAC recommends that broadcasters should take full advantage of new digital
>closed captioning technologies to provide maximum choice and quality for
>Americans with disabilities.
> It is difficult to think of an interest more substantial
> than the promotion of the welfare of children who watch so
> much television and rely upon it for so much of the
> information they receive. All children deserve access to
> programming that addresses their range of interests and needs
> at various ages including educational programming that can
> supplement schooling and good parenting. News and public
> affairs programming should be made available in preparing
> children for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
> Broadcasting must be a safehaven for children -- both providing
> tools to help parents to choose appropriate programming and
> preventing exposure to excessively violent and harmful programming
> or exploitative advertising.
>Next to family, television is the most pervasive influence on child
>development and behavior in our society. Over the last 25 years, we have
>increasingly turned the storytelling function of our culture over to the
>media -- reducing the time children spend with adult role models who can
>foster positive attitude development and reinforce positive social behavior.
>American Academy of Pediatrics President Joel Alpert, MD recently said,
>"Digital television will add a lot more channels and programming in
>communities across the country, which could further compound the negative
>impact television can sometimes have on children."
> Broadcasting makes possible schools without walls and
> lifelong learning. The opportunities for broadcasting to
> improve education have extraordinarily high stakes for our
> nation. The acquisition and use of knowledge is a major
> resource for our society in the coming century and is
> pivotal for our quality of life, our economic development,
> our democracy, and indeed our security. The nation's success
> depends upon how effectively all members of our society are
> prepared to use information technologies, which in turn means
> that the proficiency of our citizens depends upon the quality
> of our educational offerings and our capacity to utilize
> information technologies for educational ends. We put our
> children and ourselves at a competitive disadvantage in the
> global economy if we do not invest wisely in educational
> resources. In allocating spectrum for broadcast licenses, the
> Commission shall devote entire channels and sub-channels to the
> lifelong educational needs of all citizens.
>PIAC reaffirmed the current commitment to educational television programming
>and provides the outline for greatly expanding it. The recommendations
>address 1) the types of educational programming that should be made
>available, 2) educational channel capacity, and 3) funding and are the
>baseline for consideration of digital broadcasters' public interest
>obligations by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The three
>specific recommendations concerning improving educational opportunities in
>the age of digital television are:
>Educational Programming
>The Committee recommends that the public should benefit from the transition
>to digital television and that this benefit should be seen through the
>universal, free availability of educational programming defined as
>preschool, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education, lifelong
>learning, distance learning, literacy, vocational education, children's
>educational, public affairs, multicultural, arts and civic education, and
>other programming directed to the educational needs of underserved
>Educational Channels
>The Committee's recommendations highlight opportunities for all broadcasters
>to provide educational programming:
>* Commercial broadcasters who "multiplex" would have multiplied obligations
>(3 hours of children's education programming per channel, for example).
>* A trust fund would be created to support public broadcasting and
>perpetuate its role as a source of noncommercial educational fare.
>* In each viewing community, additional channels would be reserved for
>non-commercial, educational programming with public broadcasters acting in
>concert with local groups like schools, universities, libraries and
>community groups.
>* Digital television's datacasting capacity would be harnessed to provide
>interactive data services to schools and other community organizations.
>The Committee makes strong recommendations to support public television and
>the new education capacity as well as identifying funding sources. The
>Committee urges Congress to consider ways to provide enhanced funding for
>public broadcasting in the digital era, and to create a trust fund to make
>such funding assured and permanent, and to move public broadcasting out of
>the whipsaw of the political arena. Adequate funding is also recommended
>for the educational capacity: spectrum space alone, despite its enormous
>intrinsic value, will be unable to reach its potential if there are not
>adequate resources to provide appropriate and engaging programming. New
>channels devoted to education can be of enormous benefit to the country if
>they have adequate financial backing.
>As the Committee report reads, the Administration and Congress should fund
>additional noncommercial spectrum capacity and noncommercial educational
>programming through a combination of several of the following options: 1)
>spectrum auctions; 2) digital broadcast ancillary and supplementary service
>fees; 3) pay or play fees; and 4) a "2 percent solution" of a 2 percent fee
>on the sale of broadcast and/or telecommunications properties and a 2
>percent fee on broadcasters' gross revenues.
> The public has a stake in who uses the airwaves and
> therefore full disclosure of public interest activity
> is a requirement of any licensee. Through programming
> on a variety of media, licensees should report on their
> process of ascertaining community needs and the programming
> created to meet those needs. As part of the renewal process,
> the Commission should review disclosed public interest
> activity of broadcasters as well as comments from the
> communities served.
>As owners of the airwaves, the public should receive reports on how it is
>used. FCC rules should facilitate a greater role for the public in the
>license renewal process. The public should have timely information about how
>a television station owner has reached out to the community he serves and
>provided programming to address the needs he has discovered. This
>information should be made available through a variety of media to suit the
>needs of various individuals in the community. The community should then
>have a say in whether or not a broadcaster should his retain right to a
> If commercial broadcasting cannot meet all the needs of
> the public as expressed in the principles above, the
> broadcast industry should share revenues to support public,
> noncommercial broadcasting. Those who profit from use of
> the airwaves must compensate the public for that use -
> preferably through public interest programming, but through
> spectrum fees, if necessary.
>The bargain for the public should be clearly defined. Television station
>owners now paying nothing for digital TV licenses that have been valued at
>$70 billion. If broadcasters cannot deliver the programming that address the
>principles above -- to serve all segments of a community with educational,
>informational and civic fare -- then they should pay the public back in
>cash. These funds could support noncommercial broadcasters who can and do
>fulfill these needs in their communities.
>PIAC recognized such an option, highlighting the "pay-or-play" model. Under
>this model, broadcasters would be given the choice of maintaining the
>existing regime of public interest
>obligations, or of paying a share of revenues to bypass those obligations,
>while receiving in return an expedited license renewal process. Another
>option is embodied in a proposal made several years ago by Henry Geller, a
>telecommunications scholar and former FCC general counsel. Mr. Geller would
>implement a mandatory "pay" system whereby all broadcasters would be
>relieved of their public interest obligations in exchange for 2 percent of
>their gross revenues and 1 percent of the revenues from license transfers.
>The money collected under the Geller plan would be used for an endowment for
>public broadcasters, other noncommercial telecommunications entities and
>noncommercial programming, including programming for children, and for free
>time for political candidates.
>In April, an industry trade magazine reported that Sen Joseph Lieberman
>(D-CT) was considering introducing a bill that would instruct the FCC to
>reexamine digital broadcasters' public interest obligations. Last year Sen
>Lieberman offered legislation that would exempt broadcasters from antitrust
>law to allow them to create a programming code of conduct. A Presidential
>Advisory Committee suggested broadcasters work on their own code as well.
>Earlier this month, Sen Lieberman testified before the Senate Commerce
>Committee on the marketing of violence to children. Sen Lieberman said, in
> we are all members of this national community and
> as such have an obligation to keep kids safe from harm, and that
> obligation embraces our cultural producers. A good place to start
> would be for each entertainment industry to ban the targeting of
> adult-rated products to children, and restore the integrity to the
> ratings they themselves have adopted and implemented....In the end,
> as we have often said, we are not seeking censorship but better
> citizenship. We are appealing to the industry's conscience, to
> recognize that you are part of the national community that is
> by the virus of youth violence
>Although digital broadcasts began in ernest May 1, at press, no legislation
>has been introduced concerning the public interest obligations of
>What's needed is a strong message from we the public: the airwaves belong to
>us -- thus our rights as viewers, listeners, information providers and
>producers are paramount. Digital television will serve democracy in the
>years to come as long as the public secures a guarantee from station owners
>to serve its diverse educational, cultural and civic needs.
>First, we can ask the Vice President to release the PIAC report to the FCC.
>He can be reached by email at ( Or by mailing
>a letter to:
>Office of the Vice President
>Old Executive Office Building
>Washington, DC 20501
>The FCC need not wait for legislation to address the digital television
>debate. Please contact the FCC Commissioners and ask them to start a
>proceeding now that is based on The Viewers' Bill of Rights and that address
>all the innovative uses for digital broadcasting like multiple video streams
>(called multiplexing) and datacasting.
>To contact them, email:
>Chairman William Kennard:
>Commissioner Susan Ness:
>Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth:
>Commissioner Michael Powell:
>Commissioners Gloria Tristani:
>or write at this address:
>Federal Communications Commission
>445 12th St, SW
>Washington, DC 20554
>An overarching issue here is the amount of public input in the debate over
>the future of television. So far the discussion has been dominated by
>commercial interests. Perhaps because of their vested interests, coverage of
>this issue in past months has been scarce on broadcast TV. The industry
>always has its say; the Benton Foundation calls upon policymakers to turn
>their attention to the needs of viewers and the rights of the public. There
>is still time
>to engage the public in defining what "in the public interest" means in the
>age of digital television.
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication - both
>internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message. This
>and past issues of Digital Beat are available online at
>The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation's
>Communications Policy & Practice program (
>Beat is made possible by support from the Open Society Institute. Our aim
is to
>equip you to be engaged in the public debate on the public interest in
>television and the Internet. We will chronicle the action at the Federal
>Communications Commission and in Congress, the efforts of public interest
>advocates, the work of nonprofit organizations and government agencies to
>create new public services, technology developments, and communications
>Benton houses the legacy of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public
>Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (
>and is committed to using its report and recommendations as a starting point
>for achieving access, diversity, equity, and education in the new media.
>Additional contributors to the Digital Beat include the Media Access Project
>(MAP), the Center for Media Education (CME), and the Civil Rights Forum on
>To subscribe to the Benton Communications-Related Headlines,
>send email to:
>In the body of the message, type only:
>subscribe benton-compolicy YourFirstName YourLastName
>To unsubscribe, send email to:
>In the body of the message, type only:
>signoff benton-compolicy
>If you have any problems with the service, please direct them to
Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley 94720-6000

"Everything wants to become television" (James Ulmer -- Teletheory)