WASHINGTON — FCC chairman Reed Hundt dared Tuesday to go where few regulators have dared before: regulation of broadcast news.

In a speech Tuesday at the Museum of Radio & Television, Hundt suggested broadcasters could help themselves, and the viewing public, by adopting a voluntary code of conduct to bring their standards and practices in line with print journalists.

Specifically, Hundt suggested that broadcasting should follow print journalism’s lead in giving readers space to express themselves in the letters to editor section. He also said TV stations should bring in ombudsmen, as many newspapers have. Ombudsmen generally serve as internal critics at their newspapers, regularly taking reporters to task for failing to live up to the publication’s editorial or journalistic standards and ethics.

If broadcasters did a better job of policing themselves, they would have an easier time defending themselves against libel in court, suggested Hundt.

And he did not stop there, calling for hearings on the issues facing broadcast journalism today. “Perhaps Congress or the FCC should hold hearings on the topic of how we could buttress the protection of TV journalists, to ensure that they go about their business without being chilled by the threat of litigation,” said Hundt.

Hundt also suggested there is a lot of room for improvement in local news. He cited a recent survey finding that local news is more concerned with coverage of sensational crimes and celebrities.

“Because of the extraordinary importance and influence of television news, isn’t it appropriate that we hold it to same ethical standards that we expect from print journalism?” asked Hundt. “In order to get the quality of journalism we expect, shouldn’t we protect TV journalists to the full extent of protection that the First Amendment can afford?”

Radio & Television News Directors Assn. prexy Barbara Cochran said Tuesday she is leery of any recommendations by a federal official to reform broadcast journalism. She added that the RTNDA is content with the current protections for broadcasters under First Amendment law.

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