12.23.2007

A License for Local Reporting. Journalists must speak out.

The New York Times Editorial Board gets it. But will their bosses and their colleagues on the nation's other boards?

JOURNALISTS are instinctively libertarian, at least when it comes to journalism. We like the conversation about journalism and the federal government to begin and end with a robust defense of the First Amendment. That’s why journalists have not been leading participants in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcasting, even though the future of our profession and its public mission is at stake.

But our profession needs to cast its reluctance to discuss broadcast regulation aside, and to let its voice be heard, loud and clear — on behalf of local reporting. The outcome of F.C.C. policy that matters most to us is not who owns what, but how much news gathering goes on.

[snip]

The F.C.C. has always been lenient about renewing broadcast licenses, but it meant something that licensees had to go through a demanding renewal process. Now license renewal is so effortless it is known as “postcard renewal.” Even the pretense that there is a connection between the grant of a broadcast license and a promise to report on one’s community is all but gone.

This week’s moves by the F.C.C. are only the beginning of a contentious period in which Congress, the courts and other interested parties will vigorously discuss a range of issues involving the regulation of newspapers, cable television and broadcast television that will affect the future of journalism. Journalists, as advocates for local reporting, must become forceful participants in the debate.

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