FCC 2011: Fairwell Fairness Doctrine


In its Fiscal Year 2011 Performance Report, the FCC did something that many had been calling for over the years – it highlighted a body of regulation known as The Fairness Doctrine and hit the delete button. The FCC also defended media rules in court, although it failed to put the quadrennial review of ownership rules to bed, even though it bears the year 2010 in its title and includes elements that have been kicking around for a decade now. Nevertheless, here are general broadcast items handled last year:

* The FCC successfully defended against a broad-based challenge to the Commission’s most recent revision of its media ownership rules. In a July 2011 opinion, the Third Circuit remanded two rules but rejected constitutional, statutory, and APA attacks on the radio/television cross-ownership rules, the local radio and local TV ownership rules, and the dual network rule, remanding only two narrow issues for the Commission’s further consideration. The Commission also filed pleadings in support of a motion by public interest groups to dismiss some broadcasters’ appeals of certain newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership waiver decisions rendered by the FCC. In an order issued in August 2011, the D.C. Circuit granted the motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds.

* On August 22, 2011, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the elimination of 83 outdated and obsolete media-related rules, including Fairness Doctrine regulations which have not been applied for more than 20 years. The elimination of these rules adds to the more than 50 outdated regulations that were already deleted as part of the Commission’s robust regulatory review process. Continuing this effort, Chairman Genachowski directed each FCC bureau to conduct a review of rules within its purview with the goal of eliminating or revising rules that are outdated or place needless burdens on businesses.

* Along with ensuring that consumers have access to critical communications during and after disasters, the Commission is taking actions to facilitate and expand emergency alert capabilities. The Commission worked with FEMA on the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) by television and radio broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television service, and wireline video service providers that deliver EAS alerts to the American public. The purpose of this nationwide test was to determine the reliability of the EAS system and its effectiveness in notifying the public of emergencies and potential danger nationwide and regionally and to identify and correct potential shortfalls in the nationwide EAS system before an actual large-scale emergency occurs. Working with wireless communications service providers, the Commission continued its efforts to implement the Commercial Mobile Alert System mandated by statute. Nationwide introduction of commercial wireless alerting is scheduled to begin in April 2012.