Sweeping proposals to rewrite the nation's 45-year-old laws oncommunication regulation were unveiled yesterday by key members of the House, who warned that modern technology is "moving on" and not waiting for laws to catch up. Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on communications, introduced a revised version of proposed legislation that has now been debated for two years and is given a good chance of enactment. Refecting compromises made to win bipartisan support, Van Deerlin was joined in offering the new, comprehensive rewrite by the subcommittee's ranking Republican, James Collins of Texas. Both men forecast passage of omnibus legislation in htis session of Congress-perhaps as early as late 1979. Hearings begin next month and many of the proposals are controversial. Similar legislation has been proposed in the Senate, which also plans early hearings. The following stories detail eysterday's proposals, affecting the mass media and telecommunications industries.
Revolutionary changes in the structure of America's mass media industry-including private advertising on public television and radio-would develop within a decade under legislation proposed in the House yesterday.
Saying they are convinced that an era of satellite transmission and cable television has made certain that diversity of viewpoints can only expand-thus eliminating the need ofr federal government intervention - Reps Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.) and James Collins (R-Tex.) proposed:
An end to all govenment regulation of commercial broadcasting within ten years and abolition of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the radio, television, cable and telephone industries.
Radio would be deregulated immediately and owners of a single station could own as many stations across the nation as they wanted-except that a firm could own only one AM and one FM station per market. TV regulation would be phased out over a decade and current ownershop limits would remain (seven stations by one firm).
For all practical purposes, bradcasting's so-called "fairness doctrine"-requiring equal time for opposing viewpoints-would be dropped. No such requirement would remain for the nation's more than 8,000 commercial radio stations but the 735 commercial TV stations would still be required to offer equal opportunity to buy time for replies to paid commercials.
"If Thomas Jefferson were writing the Bill of Rights today he would make it clear that the First Amendment applies to broadcast as well as print journalism," Van Deerlin told reporters. Independence of broadcast news is "so important, we can't afford to leave government in the position of requiring coverage," he added.
In perhaps the most controversial section, public broadcasters would be allowed to become more "self-sustaining" by carrying a limited amount of advertising-clustered so as not to interrupt any programs and occupying no more than 3 percent of a broadcast day.
Van Deerling said this would permit public broadcasting to be insulated from government interference and suggested it is "unlikely" Congress would approve $590 million of federal aid for non-commercial broadcasting, as recommended by the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting.
Legislation does propose a permanent authorization of $1.50 a year for every U.S. resident, yielding public broadcasting more than $300 million annually.
Newspaper companies would be permitted to buy or retain ownership of broadcast stations in the markets where they publish, overturning current FCC rules prohibiting any future cross-ownership situations-a policy that Texas millionaire Joe Allbrittion says forced him to sell The Washington Star if he was to retain ownership of WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
"We're unimpressed by some of the realities of the cross-ownership rules," Van Deerlin said. Specifically, the California Democrat said "i'm not sure" the Washington and Detroit areas "have benefitted" from a swap of TV stations in those markets by owners of The Washington Post and Detroit Evening News, who said the transaction was made because of the ownership controversy.
The legislation also would set a "scarcity value" formula for collecting fees to use airways by commercial stations; a typical station with $20 million in annual revenues would pay $123,000 the first year and $1.2 million after 10 years. Such funds would go to the Treasury and not be earmarked specifically to underwrite public broadcasting, as in earlier proposals.
In response to the Van Deerlin proposal, Nicholas Johnson, a chairman of the National Citizens Communications Lobby, complained that it would take away too many of the public's rights. The fairness doctrine, equal time provisions for candidates, requirements for public affairs and news programming, obligations to provide public service announcements, limitations on commercial time, and insistence that stations ascertain the needs of the communities they serve-which would all be abandoned by the bill-make stations "a little more responsible than they ordinarily would be," Johnson said. "Broadcasters don't care about things like public affairs; the FCC obligations not to cancel is what keeps them on," he said.
A former FCC commissioner, Johnson said permitting the sale of commercials on noncommercial broadcasting was one of the more "outrageous contributions" of the bill. "You don't eliminate the problems of public broadcasting by just making it commercial," he said.
He also attacked the proposal to eliminate the FCC role in enforcing equal employment opportunities for minorities and women at radio stations on the grounds that they are small employers. Johnson said the small radio station is the most common place for new entrants into the industry and the Van Deerlin proposal would effectively eliminate the opportunity for black and other minorities to get into the business.
However, the bill would set up a $10 million fund to increase minority broadcast ownership through loan guarantees and investments.
A member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and former FCC counsel, J. Clay Smith Jr., also expressed opposition to the end of th separate government broadcast regulation over equal employment.
National Cable Television Association President Robert L Schmidt said the new bill is better than previous proposals in recognizing cable "as a national communications medium." But he complained that the bill would open cable o domination by telephone companies and jeopardize cable success by requiring them to get permission of program producers for rebroadcast.
"The bill has put the fox in charge of the chicken coop," said Schmidt, but Van Derrlin aruged that his approach was better than requiring cable to go to broadcast stations for such rights.
The corporation for Public Broadcasting had no official reaction but a spokesman said it "would be foolish not to look at any proposal that offers new funds. Advertising is very interesting and provocative. There are those who will oppose it, of course,"
The CPB would be abolished under the bill after 1983 and replaced with an Endowment for Program Development, a private nonprofit firm to fund TV and radio programs.