The Federal Communications Commission voted by a 3-2 margin to eliminate a decades-old rule requiring television and radio stations to maintain studios in the local communities they serve.
The three Republican commissioners said the decision would lead to cost savings for the broadcasters, which could be used to enhance “programming, equipment upgrades, newsgathering, and other services that benefit consumers.”
Enacted over 80 years ago, the rule was established to “facilitate input from community members and the station’s participation in community activities.” In today’s modern age, that rule is no longer needed because residents “can interact directly [with stations] through alternative means such as e-mail, social media, and the telephone,” the FCC said in a release announcing the decision.
“Getting rid of the rule will help broadcasters serve viewers and listeners, especially those in small towns and rural areas where the cost of compliance dissuades broadcasters from even launching stations,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated.
Local stations will still have an “obligation to air programming responsive to the interests of the community,” according to commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Residents will still be able to contact their local stations, because “it is more efficient and effective to call or e-mail a broadcast station, especially in times of an emergency, rather than visit the actual studio.”
The Democratic minority commissioners argued that eliminating the rule would exacerbate the problem around the shortage of stations with strong community ties.
“There are many broadcasters who do an extraordinary job serving communities during disaster,” said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “But let’s be honest – they can only do so when they have a real presence in their area of license.” She continued that removing the main station rule “will hollow out the unique role broadcasters play in local communities.”
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy predicted that because of the rule change, “local news production could be moved to places such as New York and Washington as the big networks buy up local stations.”