The FCC issued two disturbing proclamations this week that should bother anyone who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin issued a press release condemning the decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturning the comission’s rulings over fleeting use of profanity.
In that release, the commish uses the f-bomb and s-word over half a dozen times — more than I ever have on this site, or anywhere else in print. Funny that he finds those words so indecent when broadcast on the public airwaves that the government must step in, but not so indecent that they should be left out of an official government document (isn’t that public paper, Kevin?). Oh, I guess children don’t read FCC press releases, so he can use whatever language he wants.
Note how Martin repeatedly refers to the “New York court.” That’s right-wing code for “liberal, Northeastern, probably Jewish.” It’s a cheap and deplorable phrase used to pander to other conservative extremists, especially those in the special-interest pressure groups that Martin constantly kowtows to. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is not a state or city court. It is a federal court, one level below the US Supreme Court.
Martin also uses this press release as an opportunity to promote the idea of a la carte pricing for cable and satellite, claiming that “permitting parents to have more choice in the channels they receive may prove to be the best solution to content concerns.” False! The content that Martin and his cabal have tried to regulate was on broadcast channels that would still go into those homes, regardless of whether they were paid for in a bundle or a la carte. Letting people decide whether to subscribe to HBO or HGTV would have no impact on Bono dropping a fleeting F-bomb during an awards telecast on NBC. Martin should also look into a new Forrester Research study regarding a la carte pricing.
Meanwhile, another FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, wrote a New York Times op-ed this week insisting that, when deciding whether to grant renewal of broadcast licenses, the commission should consider whether the license owner “served the public interest.” That’s not the same as offering programming that “interests the public.” As with so many in government, he’s sure that he knows what’s in your best interest better than you do, so he wants to force-feed you programming you’re not going to watch.
Here are some of the points Copps wants considered, in italics, with my response following:
Did the station show programs on local civic affairs (apart from the nightly news), or set aside airtime for local community groups? While those groups may be doing good work, there’s surely no audience for this kind of programming, which is why it’s so often relegated to the less-viewed and less-listened-to dayparts, such as early Sunday morning. Would the commission force stations to air these programs in primetime? Listeners and viewers would tune out in droves. How is that in the public interest?
Did it broadcast political conventions, and local as well as national candidate debates? Political conventions are a moot point these days, with the nominees decided long before during the primary process. The four-day events are nothing more than political grandstanding put on by each party, offering nothing of any news value except for an occasional important speech (e.g. Obama’s coming out party in 2004).
Did it devote at least five minutes each night to covering politics in the month before an election?
Most of that coverage is now of the horse-race variety, telling us who’s ahead in the polls and what slick campaign line a candidate has repeated for the umpteenth time. Does Copps seriously think there isn’t enough coverage of national campaigns? The problem is there’s too much of it, starting 18 months before a presidential election, when no one but the most hardcore is paying attention. Would a station have to cover local candidates and issues ad nauseum, and if so, down to what level?
These are decisions to be made in newsrooms, by people who are in the business of providing television to a mass market, not by some political appointees sitting high and mighty in their offices at the FCC. We now have a wide variety of media that offer anyone who wants more information the opportunity to discover anything they like about any kind of candidate. Telling broadcasters that the renewal of their license is dependent on their coverage of the electoral process is a misuse of the commission’s own public trust.
When it comes to broadcast regulation, the government’s sole responsibility should be to make sure that the technical rules (staying on frequency and within power specifications and coverage areas) are adhered to — nothing else.
Hands off the content!