Sign of hope?

While a lot of people predicted that Barack Obama would try to revise the unconstitutional "Fairness Doctrine" (requiring broadcasters to present "both sides" of "controversial issues"), I've long been skeptical that he would dare. Not only would he have little to gain politically, but I cannot think of anything more calculated to activate and unite the conservative base.

Via an email, I see a warning from FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell that reinstating the doctrine could wreak havoc with everything from children's TV regulations to public radio. McDowell also reminded the Media Institute of Barack Obama's apparent position against such a move:

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell had a message for Democrats, or anyone else contemplating trying to reimpose the fairness doctrine: The move could undermine the justification for existing localism and children's TV regulations, and could be used against public radio.

[...]

In the speech, McDowell cited candidate Barack Obama's statement to B&C--through an aide--that he did not support the doctrine, adding that the new administration has a terrific opportunity to enunciate its strong opposition to anything resembling the fairness doctrine.

He spoke at length about the doctrine's origins and its use by both Democrats and Republicans against their opponents. He said he did not know whether recent calls for its return would bear fruit, felt it was a good time to talk to his audience--of media executives, lobbyists, journalists and others--about its creation, its historical abuses, and the legal difficulties involved with restoring it and trying to enforce it.

McDowell warned that if the doctrine were revived, it might not "wear the same label. That's just Marketing 101: if your brand is controversial, make a new brand," he told his audience.

He suggested the doctrine could be woven into the fabric of policy initiatives with names like localism, diversity or network neutrality. "According to some, the premise of any of these initiatives is similar to the philosophical underpinnings of the Doctrine: the government must keep electronic conduits of information viewpoint neutral," he said.

McDowell suggested that a stealth version of the doctrine may already be teed up at the FCC in the form of community advisory boards to help determine local programming.

Great. Local boards consisting of ideologues with agendas.

A return to the Fairness Doctrine has something to hurt almost everyone -- including Internet users:

McDowell also said that efforts to reimpose the doctrine could stretch to cable, satellite, and even the Internet. "Certain legal commentators have suggested that a new corollary of the Doctrine should be fashioned for the Internet, on the theory that web surfers should be exposed to topics and views that they have not chosen for themselves," adding: "I am not making this up."

In a move obviously calculated to strike fear into the hearts of regulatory-minded Democrats, the same ones who have meen making noises about liking the fairness doctrine when it comes to reining in talk radio critics, McDowell had this:
"Actually, in a string of media cases stretching back over more than 20 years, various judges on the D.C. Circuit - both Democratic and Republican appointees - have suggested that it is time for the Supreme Court to rethink the concept of spectrum scarcity as a justification for limiting broadcasters' First Amendment rights. A revived Doctrine would provide a big, bright bulls-eye for those who wish to make that happen. That development would have implications far beyond the Doctrine itself. Much of our content regulation of broadcasters - including most of the FCC's existing localism rules and the regulations requiring three hours a week of children's programming - rest on the spectrum scarcity rationale. If that rationale is invalidated, serious legal challenges to all those other content rules may follow."

McDowell said he was hopeful that the Obama administration understood all this.

It's nice to have something to hope for, and I'm hopeful too!

posted by Eric on 01.29.09 at 11:49 AM










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