HOLLYWOOD — Citing a need to improve local broadcast coverage of public issues, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) intends to introduce legislation requiring licensees to submit proof to the Federal Communications Commission that they are serving the public interest.
At a press conference Tuesday, McCain said results of a new survey of local broadcasting played a key role in prompting his legislation. The Lear Center Local News Archive tracked local news coverage of last year’s elections. Among its findings:
- Eight times more news coverage went to stories about accidental injuries than local elections.
- Twelve times more coverage went to sports and weather.
- Only 8% of local broadcasts contained stories about local candidate races.
“To those broadcasters whose dismal performance is captured in this study or whose performance was as dismal as the broadcasters in the study, I question how you are meeting your obligation to use the nation’s spectrum to serve the public interest,” McCain said in a prepared statement.
Bill would reduce current term of a license from eight years to three, and when applying for FCC renewal, broadcasters would have to demonstrate sufficient coverage of issues important to public interest. Broadcasters would also have to post on their Web sites information detailing commitment to local public affairs programming.
In addition, the FCC would have to decide whether these public interest obligations should be applied after the transition to digital television.
“I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction,” McCain said. “It will have a small impact on those stations that are currently meeting their public interest obligations, but it should have a large impact on those citizens whose local broadcaster is not meeting its obligation to serve the local community. I refuse to believe that the public interest is served by three minutes of campaign coverage and a 12-second sound bite from a candidate during a half-hour local news program.”
The National Assn. of Broadcasters said in a statement the Lear Center survey was “disappointing because its findings are clearly slanted to fall in line with the authors’ predetermined conclusions.”
The NAB continued: “Among the Lear Center’s failings: Lear researchers reviewed the election coverage of just 11 of 210 local television markets, hardly a representative sampling of an entire industry; Lear researchers left out thousands of hours of election coverage in morning news programs, noon news programs, 4 p.m. local news programs and latenight programming like ‘Nightline’; Lear researchers refused to count Sunday morning talkshow coverage, both local and national.”