The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said yesterday that he hopes the commission soon will begin deregulating the television industry to free it from most current government programming rules.
Mark S. Fowler, in a meeting with reporters, said that he wants the commission to begin considering television deregulation before the end of this year -- even though the legality of such a move is still in question.
Fowler said he would like the commission to consider eliminating FCC guidelines on the amount of news and public affairs programming that stations must broadcast and maximum limits on the number of commercials per hour.
Also under consideration would be the repeal of rules requiring television stations to keep detailed program logs on what they broadcast. Additionally, Fowler wants the commission to consider dropping rules that require station owners to survey community needs and broadcast programs that meet these needs.
Fowler's proposals closely follow the FCC's actions two years ago deregulating the radio industry by lifting almost identical programming requirements. That action, however, is being challenged in court, and a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals is expected imminnently.
Several commission officials believe that the FCC should hold off any deregulation of the television industry until the court decision is handed down.
Rather than await that decision, however, Fowler said he is "anxious to get on with television deregulation," and plans to push the commission to begin action without a court decision.
Television deregulation is just one of the steps the commission can take to get the government out of regulating the broadcasting industry, said Fowler. He wants the removal of all federal broadcasting rules, including licensing procedures that allow the government to decide who stays on the air and programming rules that require broadcasters to air all sides of controversial issues.
While Fowler acknowledged that much of his deregulation program must be accomplished through changes in law, he said that there were several things the commission could do on its own to get the government out of the broadcasting industry.
In addition to television deregulation, Fowler said the commission should consider lifting its rules that make it possible for a television station owner to lose his or her license if found guilty of fraudulent practices such as billing companies for advertisements that never run.
"Why does the federal government have to be involved when this is an issue that could be settled in the courts?" Fowler said.
Fowler's comments drew immediate reaction from both the broadcasting industry and consumer groups. An official for the National Association of Broadcasters said it is "all for" Fowler's proposals. However, Andrew J. Schwartzman, executive director of Media Access Project, said his group will fight the proposals. "It is an outrage to me that he ignores the needs of listeners," Schwartzman said. "If someone is low enough in character to enage in federal crime [by sending fraudulent bills], then they cannot be responsible enough in their news coverage to merit a government license to operate a television station."
Fowler also said he wants to change some of the commission's policies designed to promote minority ownership of radio and television stations. Saying current policies were "not effective" because they have resulted in giving minorities only a 1.3 percent control of all the nation's radio and television stations, Fowler said he wants to revamp some of the commission's financial policies to encourage station owners to sell to minority groups.