Local News

FCC Localism Hearing Draws Large, Vocal Crowd

Posted October 22, 2003 9:18 a.m. EDT

— With lucrative television and radio licenses in the Carolinas up for renewal, members of the

Federal Communications Commission

-- including Chairman Michael Powell -- held a hearing in Charlotte Wednesday night to discuss how broadcasters contribute to their local communities.

The hearing was the first of six to be held during a period of intense debate over media ownership rules.

"Today's hearing begins the on-the-ground inspection of how stations are serving their local community," said Powell, who was joined by FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein at the hearing.

The hearings come in the wake of the FCC's controversial decision in June to loosen media ownership. The new ownership rules would allow a single company to own TV stations reaching 45 percent of the nation's viewers and to own newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same city.

Powell, one of three Republicans on the commission who backed the new rules, has said he believes the issue of how broadcasters serve their local community should be addressed separately from the ownership rules.

But he could not stop speakers from bringing up the ownership dispute at the Charlotte hearing.

"To try to talk about localism without discussing media ownership is avoiding the issue," said Tift Merritt, a singer-songwriter from Raleigh who told the FCC members she was unable to get her songs on her local radio station.

Her comment drew applause from the packed hearing.

In August, Powell appointed a task force to study the localism issue, hold public hearings and report back within a year.

In addition, the commission will seek comments on rules designed to promote local programming, which includes making a newscast sound local despite being aired from another city.

"We heard the voice of public concern loud and clear, that localism remains a core concern of our public," Powell said when he formed the task force. "And, thus, I think it is time the commission address it head on."

He got that chance starting Wednesday night, when citizens lined up at two podiums to voice their opinions on the FCC's recent actions.

Powell, Copps and Adelstein also heard from

two panels of invited guests,

one of which included Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of

Capitol Broadcasting Company,

WRAL's parent company.

"Broadcasters have been given very special privileges, and they have very special responsibilities to serve their local communities," Copps said.

Adelstein and Powell said it was important for the FCC commissioners to get outside of Washington.

"We need to hold people's feet to the fire to make sure they are doing what they should be doing when they realize these renewals are coming up," Adelstein said.

As expected, most of the speakers urged the commissioners to require broadcasters to give back to their communities.

Most of the broadcasters in the room were quick to point out the work they do in their community, from featuring local artists to raising money for cancer and other worthy causes.

"Every broadcaster I know, myself included, believes they are following the FCC rules and doing a good job of serving their local communities," said Goodmon, whose company also owns stations in Charlotte and Wilmington. "But there is always room for improvement."

Goodmon said part of the problem is that broadcasters do not know exactly what responsibilities they should shoulder.

Mary Klenz, co-president of the

League of Women Voters of North Carolina,

said she was concerned about the high cost of political advertising on television. While those costs have risen, she said, voter participation has declined.

"Citizens get the majority of their news and information from television," she said. "What we are seeing is less information, less voting and less information."