RADIO DEBRIEF: Last week was the annual National Association of Broadcaster’s show 2014 in Las Vegas and the keynote address from CEO Gordon Smith took a healthy swipe at American regulators, urging officials to ensure that TV and radio have the same kinds of regulatory protections often provided for in broadband and other media platforms. The call was, amongst other things, for regulators, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop looking specifically at multi-ownership in a market and whether mobile phones should include chips to receive radio signals.
Many of these same regulations apply to how Icasa regulates the South African radio market. For instance it is all right for South African media groups to have a multitude of digital platforms, but they are restricted in the number of radio stations they can own. With the blurring of the lines in media consumption between radio and the digital space, these regulations are starting to feel outdated.
Radio Debrief has published an edited excerpt of Smith’s ‘State of the Industry’ address.
“Our content, our connection to local communities and our spectral efficiency make us the envy of others,” said Smith regarding the broadcast radio and television industries. “We are a competitive threat. I am not sure Washington views us this way, however.
“On one hand, government can treat us as if we are dinosaurs and does what it can to encourage TV stations to go out of business,” continued Smith. “On the other hand, the FCC says we are so important and powerful that two TV stations can’t share advertising in the same market, while it’s okay for multiple cable, satellite and telecommunications operators to do so. Which is it? Too powerful or irrelevant? It can’t be both. One possible explanation is that, over the past five years, there has been an increasingly singular focus by the federal government on broadband.”
Smith said that while the (FCC) focused on developing a roadmap for the future of the cable and wireless industries, the Commission has continued to approach broadcasting using outdated rules and regulations.
“The FCC has continued to regulate broadcasters as if the world is stuck in the 1970s,” said Smith. “So I ask, why doesn’t the FCC have a National Broadcast Plan? Why is there no focus to foster innovation and investment in broadcasting to ensure our business continues to be a world leader alongside our broadband industries? Where is the FCC’s gusto and determination to embrace broadcasting’s values and public service responsibilities?
“Regulators should abandon taking isolated approaches to policies ranging from the UHF discount to sharing agreements to radio chips in cellphones, and instead should examine broadcast rules comprehensively and how they interact to achieve broader broadcast goals.” said Smith. “By taking a forward-looking regulatory approach to broadcasting, the FCC can foster competition between different forms of media to the benefit of the consumer.”
He was also quick to point out that broadcasters play an important role in public interest. “Without broadcasting, who will carry out the public interest mandates of diversity and localism, to say nothing of children’s programming, political events and observing decent standards of local communities.
“While other communications companies such as pay-TV providers, satellite and online radio, and wireless carriers charge consumers for using their products, every American is capable of receiving radio and television broadcasting for free on an on-going basis. If the government continues imposing outdated regulations on broadcasters, it would be most detrimental to those most at risk in our society,” said Smith.
“Our government leaders have placed a high priority on giving a voice to those whose voices often go unheard; those who live in rural communities and low-income areas, minorities and seniors,” said Smith. “It seems the FCC is at odds with the very constituencies the White House values the most.”
This is possibly a point that the South African NAB should perhaps raise with Icasa in terms of the imposed limitations on radio ownership, let alone the limitation on available broadcasting licenses. As these restrictions exist the notion of other forms or radio communication platforms not only become more attractive, they are the only other alternatives for media content providers. Ultimately the consumer will eventually have to pay whether it be by subscription or merely through high data cost.
Edited by Gavin Meiring @gavinmayring.
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