Corporations Profit from Public Airwave Access -- Do You?
PEOPLE FOR BETTER TV ISSUES CALL FOR ACTION TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN THE DIGITAL AGE
People For Better TV, a broad-based national coalition, is calling for a public hearing by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on what television station owners and broadcasters owe the American public as the nation makes the transition to digital TV.(Publisher's note -- the government gave $110 billion in free airwave access to broadcast station owners. Some claim it was only $70 billion. Either way, it is the largest corporate welfare giveaway of all time. Is it too late to get a little compensation from the welfare queens? The Benton Foundation and People for Better TV are going to try.)
In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress gave broadcasters $70 billion worth of additional public airwaves for digital TV broadcasts. Broadcasters in the nation's ten largest media markets are supposed to begin using these additional airwaves in this month, but the FCC has yet to determine how television station owners should compensate communities.
The Benton Foundation suggests that the FCC base its proceeding on the following principles which we call The Viewers Bill of Rights:
- The Rights Of Viewers Are Paramount.-- The public owns the airwaves and retains its free speech rights as listeners and speakers and the collective right to have the media function consistently with the ends and purposes of the First Amendment.
- A Commitment To Localism. -- The needs of communities must be ascertained and addressed by fair, balanced and amble programming.
- Meeting The Needs Of Democracy. -- The needs of our Nation's democracy demand fairness of debate in political coverage.
- Fair And Balanced Treatment Of News, Public Events, Emergencies, And Controversial Issues. -- Communities and our democracy have a right to fair and balanced treatment of news, public events, emergencies, and controversial public issues.
- Diversity. -- Diverse voices shall find expression on the airwaves.
- Accessibility. -- Programming must be accessible to all citizens.
- A Safehaven For Children. -- 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.
- Education. -- The opportunity for broadcasting to improve education has extraordinarily high stakes for our Nation. These stakes demand the devotion of entire channels and sub-channels to the lifelong educational needs of all citizens.
- Disclosure Of Public Interest Activity. -- The public has a stake in who uses the airwaves and therefore full disclosure of public interest activity should be a requirement of any license.
- Spectrum Fees. -- Those who profit from use of the airwaves must compensate the public for that use either through programming or spectrum fees..
"Perhaps no process deserves more public scrutiny than the decisions that will define what communities will receive for the gift of $70 billion worth of public airwaves," said Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton. "There must be a role for viewers in defining what 'in the public interest' means in the age of digital television." Mr. Benton also served on the President's Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (PIAC) which delivered a set of recommendations to Vice President Gore last year. The Benton Foundation is home of the PIAC legacy.
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.
"This is not a case of policy elites asking commercial broadcasters to become 'do-gooders,'" said Benton's new Director of Communications Policy and Practice Tony Wilhelm. "This is an effort to guarantee the public a opportunity to weigh in on how their airwaves are used and to fashion a system that meets their educational and civic needs without being overly burdensome on commercial broadcasters."
People For Better TV includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, the Communications Workers of America, the Consumer Federation of America, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women, and dozens of other groups and individuals across the country.
In urging public hearings by the FCC, People for Better TV is submitting a petition to the Commission which argues that the needs of parents, children, and communities must be protected in the digital age. The Coalition will be urging all Americans to call on the FCC to take action on behalf of the public and set standards for television station owners as they enter the digital age.
For more information about People for Better TV, or to get involved, check out (www.bettertv.org)
This article was circulated by the Benton Foundation.
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