In the past two weeks, government activity surrounding the broadcasting industry has been at a fevered pitch. On March 4, 2010, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps criticized broadcasters and regulators for what he maintains is a failure to keep the public’s interest in mind in broadcast programming.
Copps maintains that “both the private and public sectors” have “dropped the ball” for 30 plus years in terms of serving the public interest. He further nodded to “three decades of horrendous decisions” that have resulted in media consolidation that he maintains has not helped broadcasters in their news gathering operations or assisted the public in getting more or better information.
While Copps said “there has never been a Golden Age of the Public Interest,” he does maintain that there was a more public-minded attitude during the “Ed Murrow era of journalism.” Further, he says that he understands that stations operate in order to make a profit but that news should not be the primary driver of that profit.
The second bit of news about the government and broadcast came on March 9, with Edolphus Towns (D-NY) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee setting up a meeting with Bill Kerr, Chairman and CEO of Arbitron, to discuss the portable people meters methodology for measuring audience listenership. While there has been a lot of controversy in the industry about the rollout of this methodology and its validity, it’s unclear what role the government sees itself as having in measuring broadcast audience?
As Obama administration marks just over a year in office, do these developments mark the beginning of a new era of “re-regulation” of the broadcast industry? Broadcasters are listening closely, as their ability to operate and make a profit may be impacted by governmental involvement, especially if that involvement comes in the form of regulations requiring that broadcasters prove that they fulfill a “fiduciary” responsibility to serve the public good.