Posted by: Tony Carson | 8 October, 2007

Are Broadcast Regulators in the Pockets of the Broadcasters?

The theory is easy enough to understand: the airwaves are owned by the people, therefore broadcasters, who are given access to the frequencies, have a responsibility to provide, in addition to their commercial programming, a public service, aka News.

This balanced has worked well for years … until the broadcasters started making all their component pieces ‘profit centres,’ meaning that each component (news, sports, entertainment, documentaries, etc) is responsible for its own profitability.

That’s a problem for News, because news-gathering is expensive: it’s labour intensive, geographically expansive and time consuming.

But News has always been the public service that gives the broadcasters the rights to access the frequency, a right that has always been a ‘license to print money.’

By decoupling the responsibility from the right, broadcasters are seeking to have it both ways: they are seeking a right without the responsibility of providing what was once a required service, the very reason they received their license.

And they are getting away with it. In the US, canned stations are common, as we reported in The Brazen Kidnapping of the Airwaves: “There are four radio stations servicing Blacksburg, Virginia. Apparently, only one of them had the ability to report live the massacre that was unfolding in April. Why? Because the other three were automated: canned in one central location and ‘localized’ for advertising in another. It is the way of radio.”

And it’s happening in Canada. As this Globe and Mail article Will CRTC ignore decline of local TV news? points out “Deep cuts to the news operations of two major television networks in the past year – which have seen jobs and local newscasts slashed amid tightening margins – have cast light on a growing struggle between the TV industry and its regulators.”

So what?

Well, we own the airwaves. It is our right, through our regulators, to bundle, as we have, a requirement for news as a quid pro quo for awarding of a broadcast license.

It is too bad that news gathering has become relatively expensive but such is life. If the broadcasters are unwilling to adjust to new realities, perhaps it is time to tie the public’s reality to the bottom line: perhaps the public should be demanding that x% of all broadcasting revenues go to the news department.

Corporations, as we know, constantly seek easier ways to make greater profits, that’s what they claim they are in business to do. But when their license is awarded with a fixed requirement, in this case to provide local news, this right can’t be ignored without bring the whole operation into question.

The FCC and the CRTC must be reminded that they have been created and empowered to protect the interests of the people. It’s about bloody well time that they start showing they understand that.



  1. […] cast light on a growing struggle between the TV industry and its regulators.”   —>… […]

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