FCC seriously entertains CABs; Big Media seriously entertains policy strangulation

Posted by Mitchell - April 11, 2008 (entry 595)

Well, there's some good news. The FCC has been seriously considering a proposal which would require all commercial TV stations in the United States to have a community advisory board (CAB).

A community advisory board is pretty much what the name suggests: a board comprising members of the community served by a given TV station. Those community members then serve as an advisory function for the station itself, to get an additional measure of feedback from the community.

It sounds like a nice idea, but it's crucial to keep in mind three things about this proposal. One, the FCC isn't providing this proposal out of thin air, or out of some concern for the public interest (despite its ostensible mandate). It's one of the bones they're throwing to the media democracy movement to fend off the considerable opposition to its December media ownership rules rewrite -- opposition which still stands a good chance to scuttle the rewrite again.

Two, speaking of fending off opposition, CABs in practice are regrettably little more than a figleaf, for stations to make it appear like they care about the public when the actual reality is little . CMA has plenty of first hand experience with the CAB for Chicago's major PBS affiliate, WTTW Channel 11. CABs have little no power over actual day-to-day programming or other decisions, and more often a measure to defuse public opposition.

Three, the members of the community who actually comprise the board aren't very representative of the community. In Chicago and elsewhere, CABs that do exist aren't a representative sample of the community (which would be far preferable), but often are stacked with corporate whores "business leaders".

While we're critical of CABs, it bears mentioning that it's worth fighting for this proposal, since it is something that has official support and can serve as the basis for additional future activism. Moreover, it's been announced that the commercial broadcast lobby -- which reacts to public interest proposals like Lon Chaney does to a full moon -- has begun pressuring the FCC to block even this small gesture towards the public.

The Stop Big Media coalition, of which CMA is a member organization, is working to pressure the corporate bastards back. While the criticisms about the proposed regulation are justified, having the rule is better than not, especially since it offers another way for the public to smack Big Media with a wet noodle. We encourage you to comment using this easy-to-use form, and tell your friends.

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