Community ascertainment : problem diversity in commercial television station problems--programs lists and general public survey methodologies in two southern California cities

The Federal Communications Commission is required to regulate broadcasting in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Two of the criteria the FCC has developed to determine just what does constitute broadcasting in the public interest are program diversity and ascertainment of, and programs about community needs. One juncture of these two criteria is in the annual problems-programs lists required by current community ascertainment guidelines. These problems-programs lists are supposed to aid the public in determining how well a licensee is meeting community needs. Also intersecting with the problems-programs list and related to diversity are the increasing demands by minority groups that programs about their special needs be broadcast. These special interest groups have often singled out one or more stations in a community and filed petitions to deny their license renewal applications. In a multiple station market, however, the question arises as to whether all stations need to address all needs, or is there sufficient diversity of problems treated when programming by all stations in the market is considered. Naturally, the more diverse the problems selected by the licensees, the more diverse the programming would be and the more likely that at least some of the needs of these special interest groups would receive treatment by the broadcasters. The purpose of this study was to study the amount of problem diversity in the problems-programs lists of the commercial television stations in two multiple-station, Southern California cities. Problem diversity by both the individual licensee and the total of all licensees in each city was studied. All information used in this study was acquired by inspecting the public files of each station. No information was used that is not available to all members of the general public. It was found that rather than significantly aiding the general public in evaluating and comparing the public service commitment to community needs by each licensee, the problems-programs lists posed many problems in making these comparisons. With respect to the diversity question, it was found that many problem areas tended to be duplicated between stations and that some stations tended to list the same problems year after year. This was especially true of stations that listed very general problem areas rather than specific, well defined problem areas. It is recommended that some system of common terminology be developed so that the reporting of community needs treated by each licensee could be standardized. Also included in this study was a look at the general public survey methodologies used to help determine community needs and the relationship of the results of these surveys to the needs selected by the licensees. It was found that the problems receiving the most emphasis in terms of number of listings in the problems-programs lists did not always carry the same importance as their ranking in the general public survey. Some problems ranked higher in the general public surveys and some ranked lower.