The Federal Communications Commission has some thorny policy challenges to tackle in the coming months and Congress could get involved, depending on the decisions that are taken.
The FCC is considering whether to redefine what kind of "character" it requires of someone who holds a broadcast license. A potential broadcaster's character, finances, technical competency and citizenship are all scrutinized before a license is granted.
One idea is to narrow the "character" definition so that the FCC would consider only whether the candidate follows the commission's rules and whether he is truthful. Under the proposal, the commission would no longer consider whether the applicant has been convicted of crimes that don't bear directly on broadcasting.
The FCC, in effect, has been doing that for years, but Congress may get upset if it makes the practice official, given the recent spate of friendly and hostile news media takeovers, notably media magnate Ted Turner's hostile bid for CBS Inc. and American Broadcasting Cos.' merger with Capital Cities Communications Inc.
"There would be a good deal of resentment toward the commission if, at this critical juncture in the broadcast industry, it looked to abdicate its responsibilities to make sure all information relevant to an applicant's character was considered," said one congressional source who follows broadcast issues closely.
The FCC is also evaluating what its role should be in hostile media takeovers. "We will do a thorough review and make firm decisions" on how the FCC will handle them in the future, said James C. McKinney, chief of the Mass Media Bureau. FCC officials have often said the agency should not be used as a shield against hostile takeovers.
DEREGULATION'S PACE . . . The Mass Media Bureau has been one of the most zealous deregulators at the agency. It has reviewed about 800 rules and changed or deleted 753 of them, said William Johnson, the bureau's deputy chief. Ninety-three percent of the regulations the bureau enforces have been reviewed.
More applications are pouring in as a plethora of new video services are being offered, McKinney said. New services that the agency has made possible include low-power television, cellular telephone service, direct broadcast satellite service, AM and TV stereo service and paging services.
Meanwhile, the application process has been streamlined -- to the point of "filling out a postcard" for broadcast license renewals, he said.
Edward J. Minkel, managing director of the agency, reports that the time applicants must spend to comply with FCC regulations has been reduced by about 45 percent, from 27.3 million hours in 1981 to about 15 million hours this year.
Since 1981, the commission staff has reviewed almost 3,000 of its 4,700 rules. About 14 percent have been eliminated and 46 percent simplified or modified.
The FCC has also pared its work force by 13 percent, from 2,225 employes in 1980 to an estimated 1,939 in 1985 -- a 13 percent cut. The work load itself, however, has increased from 933,000 applications in 1984 to more than 1 million projected for this year.
MILESTONES . . . Jennifer C. Bush, assistant bureau chief for management in the Private Radio Bureau, became the first FCC employe to receive the William A. Bump Memorial Foundation award for distinguished career service in public administration. The award is made annually to a government employe under 38 years old.
John O. (Jack) Robinson, a senior communications policy analyst in the Office of Plans and Policy, retired May 3 after 22 years of federal service.