This contention reflects a lack of awareness of how information flows on the Internet. It’s not that every citizen would now spend their hours on the FCC website. It’s that journalists, citizen groups, and competitors would use the government data to create consumer-friendly information sources and reports. Local newspaper reporters would write about the stations in their area. National best-and-worst lists would follow. Apps would be born. The news about which stations engage in these practices would spread.
That may be exactly what broadcasters fear. Seeping through the comments submitted to the FCC from industry representatives is the sense that they prefer the current system in which the “public inspection file” is not actually inspected by the public. For instance, four TV licensees (in San Diego, Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois) objected to a proposal that the public be notified on-air about the existence of the public inspection file: “Such announcements may arouse the public’s interest in examining a PIF, but the Licensees do not believe that the Commission should attempt to stimulate such examinations.” Right. We wouldn’t want the public actually paying attention because that would, in the stations’ words, result in their playing “Sherlock Holmes” rather than engaging station managers in “productive dialogue.”
These licensees note that in “the ensuing forty-five years, the public has generally made little use of the PIF files for either dialogue or confrontational purposes.” But amazingly, they offer this as evidence that the system works fine and should not be changed.
Now, it may be there are ways in which the proposed rules could be improved or sharpened. And broadcasters are absolutely right when they say that for such a system to work, the FCC itself will have to up its game technologically.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of something basic: that the organizations arguing against better disclosure represent local news operations—yes, the same news organizations that routinely (and appropriately) demand greater transparency from public officials. Can these local TV news organizations really be so tone-deaf as to demand greater transparency from everyone else but resist even the most rudimentary, common-sense forms of transparency for themselves?
January 17 is the newly extended deadline to respond to the rule and the first wave of comment that have been submitted. Whether you agree with my take or not, I’d urge you to weigh in. To read the comments offered so far, go here and put it in proceeding number 00-168. To post your own comment, click on the “submit a filing” link on the side or click here. To read the FCC’s proposal in full, go here.
This is one of two articles about new FCC rules on media transparency; here’s the other.