In Re Dissent to Commission Action of October 26, 1972 Noting Staff Report on Maryland, West Virginia and
District of Columbia 1972 Renewals
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
38 F.C.C.2d 135
NOVEMBER 2, 1972
[*135] On October 26, 1972, the Commission noted actions to be taken by the staff under delegated authority in connection with disposition of October 1, 1972 broadcast renewal applications for Washington, D.C., Maryland and West Virginia. Commissioner Johnson dissented and has now issued the attached statement.
DISSENTING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER NICHOLAS JOHNSON
As it has done on so many prior occasions, the majority today refuses to find fault with the license renewals of several broadcast stations on the grounds that those stations have adamantly refused to meet the public's need for news, public affairs and other non-entertainment programming. And, as I have done on an equal number of occasions, I dissent.
The Federal Communications Commission has been directed by Congress to ensure that, in return for their normally very lucrative use of the publicly owned airwaves, broadcasters serve "the public interest." Yet, in the tradition of Catch -- 22, we have never offered those broadcasters even the slightest hint as to what the term "public interest" means. This is because we, ourselves, do not know -- or at least never attempted to come up with a definition.
In 1938 former Commissioner Kenneth Cox and I tried to add a little reason to our otherwise chaotic policies. We suggested that, at a very minimum, broadcasters could not possibly be serving the needs of the public unless they broadcast at least 5% news, 1% public affairs, and 5% other non-entertainment programming. The majority, preferring to sink deeper into the quagmire of non-principled decision-making, rejected our proposal.
And so, today, the majority blithely approves the Broadcast Bureau's renewal of 221 of the 418 broadcast stations in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia area. And this in spite of the following revelations:
[*136] (1) Three of the A.M. radio stations and three of the television stations propose to program less than 5% news. All of these stations propose far less news than they proposed three years ago -- no doubt because each station's performance in the area of news programming during the last three years fell abysmally short of prior promises. Four of these station's news programming proposals for the coming three years do not even begin to approach a 4% figure; indeed, WDCA-TV in Washington, D.C. has the gall to propose less than 1.5% news.
(2) Eight of the radio stations and one television station -- WDCA once again -- propose less than 1% public affairs programming.
(3) 26 of the radio stations propose to devote less than 5% of devote less than 5% of of their time for the combined categories of public affairs and other non-entertainment programs.
Even absent any minimum standards by which to judge a broadcaster's past performance, these figures should give the majority pause, However, the majority is apparently of the view that, absent such standards -- standards which the majority steadfastly refuses to promulgate -- a broadcaster's license should be renewed virtually automatically, since to deny a license without first informing the broadcaster what he must do would be too harsh a remedy. And that is what I mean about Catch -- 22.