In the Matter of PRIMER ON ASCERTAINMENT OF COMMUNITY PROBLEMS BY BROADCAST APPLICANTS,
PART I, SECTIONS IV-A AND IV-B OF FCC FORMS
Docket No. 18774
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
33 F.C.C.2d 394
RELEASE-NUMBER: FCC 72-12
January 13, 1972 Released
Adopted January 5, 1972
BY THE COMMISSION: COMMISSIONER JOHNSON DISSENTING AND ISSUING A STATEMENT; COMMISSIONER H. REX LEE ABSENT.
[*394] 1. On February 18, 1971, we adopted a Primer on the ascertainment of community problems by broadcast applicants, 27 FCC 2d 650, 21 RR 2d 1507. Now before us is a petition filed March 26, 1971, by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) seeking reconsideration of answer 17 of the Primer.
2. Question and answer 17 of the Primer are as follows:
Question: In consultations to ascertain community problems, may a preprinted form or questionnaire be used?
Answer: Yes. A questionnaire may serve as a useful guide for consultations with community leaders, but cannot be used in lieu of personal consultations. Members of the general public may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to be collected by the applicant. If the applicant uses a form or questionnaire, a copy should be submitted with the application.
The NAB requests that answer 17 be amended "to permit broadcast applicants to make use of mail surveys which involve the voluntary return of the questionnaire by a stamped, self-addressed envelope supplied by the applicant-interviewer."
3. As we indicated in the Report and Order in Docket No. 18774, 27 FCC 2d 650, 21 RR 2d 1507 (1971), in which we adopted the Primer, consultations with members of the general public are required. This was based on our belief that they may perceive community problems differently than community leaders. n1 So that a wide range of their views would be known and evaluated, we sought to assure that those members of the general public who were consulted would be generally distributed throughout the population of the city of license. This can, of course, be quite simply accomplished by using a telephone directory to select members of the general public to be called. On the other hand, we do not believe that the mailing of questionnaires which are to be voluntarily returned by the person whose views are sought will result in an appropriate distribution. For example, a study of broadcast renewals submitted by one party, in response to our Notice of Inquiry in this proceeding, found some [*395] instances where the response was less than 25 percent from a very small sample. Thus, a substantial question is raised as to whether there was a general distribution. While we do not require statistical accuracy, we believe that this factory reduces the efficacy of consultations with members of the general public to a point where such consultations would serve little purpose.
n1 See paragraph 20 of the Report and Order in Docket No. 18774, adopting the Primer.
4. The NAB states, however, that there are follow-up procedures for improving response rates and generally avoiding the pitfalls we saw in the mailed questionnaire which was to be voluntarily returned by the persons consulted. Our goal, as stated above, is to assure that those members of the general public who are consulted are generally distributed throughout the city of license. Therefore, if the applicant can demonstrate that this goal can be reached by using mailed questionnaires with appropriate follow-up procedures, he may rely on that method. But, as a general rule, we believe that the considerations set out in paragraph two, above, remain valid. Accordingly, answer 17 will be changed to read as follows:
Answer: Yes. A questionnaire may serve as a useful guide for consultations with community leaders, but cannot be used in lieu personal consultations. Members of the general public may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to be collected by the applicant. The applicant may also permit members of the general public to return the questionnaires by mail, but only if the applicant submits an appropriate showing that this method has resulted in responses from members of the general public who are generally distributed throughout the community to be served. If the applicant uses a form or questionnaire, a copy should be submitted with the application.
5. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the petition for reconsideration filed by the National Association of Broadcasters IS GRANTED to the extent indicated above.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, BEN F. WAPLE, Secretary.
DISSENTING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER NICHOLAS JOHNSON
The purpose of the Primer on Ascertainment of Community Problems was not only to establish a mechanism for determining these needs, but to open a channel for dialogue between licensees and their community. By its action today in authorizing mailed questionnaires rather than personal contact, the Commission has effectively immunized licensees from the benefit of that contact. In an age of impersonality, we are adding yet another barrage of computerized mailings, primarily designed to eliminate the very personal contact that is so vital to opening channels of dialogue.
There are other problems with the change we authorize. Mailed questionnaires may be used if licensees submit "an appropriate showing that this method has resulted in responses from members of the general public who are generally distributed throughout the community served." No where is there any indication of what constitutes an "appropriate showing." I can envision our being further bogged down with considerations of this nature which could easily be avoided by denying the requested change.
Finally, the licensees -- and the Commission by association -- are subject to the same criticisms made of the 1970 census. There, for the [*396] first time in census history, questionnaires were mailed, and minority groups complained that this mechanism diminished their statistical impact. Whether or not this was the case, the charge itself seriously injured the credibility of the census. It is anomalous that in an effort to bring licensees and community groups together, we sanction a method which, if not by design, at least by result threatens to inhibit this dialogue.