FCC Once Again Declines to Intervene In Format Dispute - US Broadcasters Have it Easy Compared to Much of the World

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

US broadcasters often complain about FCC regulations on programming, but they don't realize how easy they have it compared to much of the rest of the world. I recently spent several days in one of the former Soviet Republics discussing broadcast regulation with broadcaster representatives, employees of the country's regulatory agency, and members of citizen advocacy groups. What seemed most surprising to those in this developing capitalist country was the fact that, in the US, broadcasters can change formats at will to react to marketplace conditions. This is not a freedom enjoyed in much of the rest of the world - even in Western Europe or in Canada. We've written many times (see, for instance our article here) that the FCC does not consider format issues - even where there are citizens complaints about a proposed change in format or a sale of a station that will probably lead to such a change. In fact, just last Friday, the FCC again reached that same conclusion, finding that it will not prevent a sale because the sale will result in a format change. The FCC has determined that format choices are a business decision protected by the First Amendment, so broadcasters are free to change at will, without the government interfering in these programming decisions.

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