In politics and policy-making, as well as game-theory, the phrase “zero-sum game” means that one side of the issue can only win if the other side suffers a corresponding loss. But last week the FCC proposed a rule-change for non-commercial broadcasters that proved that, even in Washington, right-minded decisions can be a win-win for all parties. In the Commission’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), they are considering adopting a proposal that NRB has been advocating for years – namely, relaxing the current rule that bans non-coms in almost all situations from interrupting their programming day so they can raise funds on-the-air for worthy non-profit organizations. The FCC’s notice mentions the October 2008 legal memorandum from NRB to the Commission that first raised the issue of a rule change. But it received little traction, it seemed, until FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appointed Steve Waldman, a journalist and founder of BeliefNet, to launch a multi-year study of the future of media in the print, broadcast, digital, cable and satellite industries regarding the delivery of news and information. Mr. Waldman graciously invited me to be a presenter at one of the FCC panels to advance NRB’s non-com fundraising idea, among others. Mr. Waldman’s massive final report to the FCC recommended adoption of NRB’s proposal, at least as an experiment – allowing non-com stations to spend up to 1% of their annual airtime to raise funds for third party 501(c)(3) non-profit groups. I addressed the same subject again at the FCC field hearing last October at the Walter Cronkite School of Communications at Arizona State University, where the FCC Chairman publicly indicated his support for a rule change. The Commission’s 20-page NPRM noted that such a change in regulations “can be a useful way of informing residents about problems in their communities” through increased synergy between non-coms and charity groups, and could help non-com stations, including faith-based ones, to “achieve their public service or religious missions.”
The final chapter has yet to be written however, as this proposed rule-change will now be subject to public comment from broadcasters, media organizations, public interest groups and the public before the FCC takes its formal vote. But it does illustrate a few important things. First, the FCC is to be commended for taking seriously not only the “public service” impulse of non-commercial broadcasters, but also the desire of faith-based non-com stations to pursue their “religious missions” through the promotion of worthy non-profit groups. Second, this rule change is truly a win-win, as it allows non-profit stations to partner with non-profit charities to address community needs, all without public tax dollars, a particularly wise move during a down economy. Third, it demonstrates, once again, the value of NRB’s long history of credible service to its members, and the importance of its presence in Washington. Let’s hope and pray that this small but important rule-change will take place and will be only the beginning of more common-sense, non-profit initiatives in Washington.
Craig Parshall, Sr. Vice President & General Counsel
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