Artistic Licenses


The National Hispanic Media Coalition has asked the FCC not to renew broadcast licenses for three Los Angeles television stations—including the new Fox network's flagship. The group claims the stations don't hire enough Hispanics or offer programs that reflect L.A.'s large Latino population. It wants Fox's license for KTTV for itself.

Such challenges are common at license renewal time—every five years for TV stations, every seven for radio. And though the government rarely jerks broadcasters' licenses, challengers with political clout can usually wrangle some favors out of nervous station owners.

FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick has publicly suggested, however, that his agency should make it more difficult for private parties to challenge broadcasters' licenses. One proposal would limit broadcasters' payments to groups that challenge licenses, as a way of discouraging challengers only hoping to collect "nuisance" money. Another proposal would create a two-step renewal process. Only after the FCC determines that the license should not be renewed would it consider applications from other groups.

The FCC hasn't officially endorsed either of these proposals. But Patrick has mentioned several times that broadcasters who otherwise comply with FCC rules should be able to expect to renew their licenses without having to prove that they "serve the community"—a highly subjective standard. He also believes the renewal process should no longer involve any analysis of broadcasters' program content, since this interferes with their right of free speech.

Patrick is a "youngster," however, with a "fetish about no government, no regulation," according to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D–S.C.), chairman of the committee that oversees the FCC. Along with some other powerful Democrats in Congress, he has resisted many of Patrick's reforms and is urging President Bush to replace him. Patrick has overcome such congressional antagonism in the past—most notably, in repealing the Fairness Doctrine. License renewal reform might be the basis for the next FCC-Congress clash.