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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release December 18, 1998

Today, as we bring television into the digital age, we stand at the brink of a great new opportunity. Digital broadcasting presents unprecedented capabilities to entertain our families, educate our children, enlighten our communities, and enrich our nation's public discourse. As with all great opportunities, there are also great responsibilities -- in this case, to make wise use of the public resource of our nation's airwaves.

I would like to thank each of the members of the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters, especially co-chairs Norman Ornstein and Leslie Moonves, for their careful consideration of broadcasters' obligations to the public.

I am encouraged by the Committee's clear recognition of broadcasters' public interest obligations. I urge broadcasters to commit to the practices recommended by consensus by the Committee -- particularly the recommendation to air voluntarily five minutes nightly of free time for political candidates for the 30 days prior to an election. A prompt, broad and deep commitment by broadcasters to this and other recommendations would be a strong signal of their willingness to respond to public interest needs as we enter the digital age. I encourage the FCC to work with broadcasters to achieve that goal.

If broadcasters choose to reject the call for free time on a voluntary basis, we believe the Federal Communications Commission will have a duty to take appropriate action. For its part, Congress ought to help us move forward on this issue on a bipartisan basis -- and not continue to threaten the FCC with further legislative reprisals to tie its hands in this area.

The President and I continue to believe strongly that there should be mandatory, universal free time for candidate centered discourse. It is unfortunate that the opposition from a few members prevented the Committee from adopting such a recommendation unanimously.

The Committee rightly recommends that broadcasters seize the opportunity of digital television to enhance diversity. More needs to be done. I continue to be concerned that minorities have not participated fully in the growing opportunities in broadcasting. I believe we must work towards the day when the voices and views on our airwaves reflect the diversity of our country.

I encourage broadcasters and manufacturers to hold a dialogue on how to use new innovative technologies to improve disaster warnings, ensure the v-chip works, and enhance closed captioning and access to digital television for people with disabilities.

Working together, we can and should make the advent of digital television a boon for the American public.