Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt called on the nation's broadcasters Thursday to conduct a more responsible "electronic public discussion" on talk radio and to improve minority hiring policies.
In his speech to members of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, who were meeting in Los Angeles for their annual convention, Hundt urged broadcasting executives to ensure that talk radio focuses on "true facts" and avoid sensationalism and "engendering skepticism and disbelief."
"One-third of all talk radio listeners say they listen in order to keep up with current issues of public importance; only 1% say they listen because of the host," Hundt said in the speech, his first to the group since he became FCC chairman in November, 1993. "It's terribly important to the whole country that radio help keep us informed."
Hundt stressed that the FCC should not be the judge of content or quality in radio's public discourses. Rather, he urged station owners and management to "assume the role of publisher or even editor in chief," emphasizing accuracy and truth over a quest for ratings and advertising dollars.
"As a society, we need solutions to public disinformation and misinformation, but solutions that don't involve governmental intrusion and yet don't leave us callously indifferent to truth or falsity," Hundt said.
Since he took the job, Hundt has established a reputation for implementing tough equal employment opportunity policies and has repeatedly stated his goal of promoting minority participation in the communications industry.
He said the FCC's primary mission is to promote competition in the communications industries, and to that end, he encouraged radio broadcasters to work with the commission to develop ways to hire and promote women and minorities in broadcasting.
"What are our hopes for the way the picture of employment in this industry should look? The answer is, gee, it would be great if it could look like the people it serves," Hundt said in an interview with The Times on Wednesday.
Hundt cited the employment potential of newer industries, such as personal communications services, as another way to improve minority hiring practices.
"We have brand-new opportunities exploding left and right," he said. "If you deal with an established industry, like broadcasting for example, it's so difficult to do much of real significance about ownership, because few stations change hands over the course of a year.
"But the new generation of lightweight portable telephones will cause the growth of subscribers of mobile telephony to go from 20 million to about 100 million over the next 10 years," Hundt said. "That growth means dozens and dozens of new companies, tens and literally hundreds of thousands of new jobs, including contracting to build the new infrastructure. In 10 years we'll be looking at a $50-billion-a-year mobile phone business. That's to be contrasted to the local telephone business today, which is about $100 billion a year."
In this area--as well as in broadcasting--Hundt sees the commission's role as that of watchdog. "The FCC is in effect working to become the Federal Promotion of Competition in All Communications Markets and Protection of Consumers from Monopoly Commission," he said.