Conservatives and Republicans fear the Democrats will impose the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio if Obama wins in November. While they rightly worry about the Fairness Doctrine, they fail to pay attention to other plans the Democrats have for controlling the media.
Under the guise of improving diversity and attention to local affairs, Obama explicity states his goals in a 2007 press release after an FCC hearing in Chicago . Here are a sampling of reports:
"Obama Urges FCC to Reduce Length of TV Station Licenses
By Ira Teinowitz of TV Week September 21, 2007
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is throwing out more hints that the Federal Communications Commission would have a somewhat different focus if he wins the election.
At Thursday night's FCC media ownership hearing in Chicago, an aide read a statement in which the Illinois senator complimented the FCC for holding the hearing but questioned some of the FCC's past focus on easing ownership rules.
Sen. Obama said the FCC should reduce the length of TV station licenses and get more input, more often, on how well stations are serving community needs.
"I believe that broadcaster license-renewal requests--the periodic review required to ensure that broadcasters are complying with their public-interest obligations to local communities for using the public spectrum--should require greater FCC scrutiny and public input and occur more frequently."......
"Instead of greater consolidation, I fully endorse the call for new rules promoting greater coverage of local issues and greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communities they operate in.".....
The Broadcast Law Blog:"According to press reports, the statement expressed the candidate's positions favoring shorter license renewal terms for broadcasters so that they would be subject to more public scrutiny, as well as criticizing the FCC for allowing broadcast consolidation....."Broadcast Law Blog
Broadcast Engineering.com: "Obama called for “greater clarity” of broadcasters’ public-interest obligations. The Illinois senator said he supported new rules “promoting greater coverage of local issues and greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communities they operate in.”
He also urged greater FCC scrutiny of broadcast station license renewals and more public input into the process..." Broadcastengineering.com
Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, easing restrictions on how many media outlets a corporation (or individual) could own in a particular market. There has been much debate over this law as most radio stations are now owned by only a few companies. Critics argue that such consolidation has stifled diversity in programming and ignored the needs of local communities. An earlier post, The Changing Face of Radio, discussed how consolidation has ruined the radio industry. However, the Democrats go past the goal of increasing competition and have made it clear they want to make it easier for the government to harass and control the media.
The Democrats advocate shortening the length of a broadcast license from its current term of eight years to one that is only two or three years, thus forcing the station to constantly worry about getting its license renewed by the government. The Democrats also have a few ideas of how to improve the so-called community focus of a station. The two Democrats on the FCC Board made the following recommendations, as reported in Broadcast & Cable:
The localism items proposed -- it established no final rules -- that broadcasters be required to better demonstrate their local programming service to the community at renewal time, including forming community advisory boards to help them determine programming of local import.
Specifically, the localism item looks at nine areas: 1) communications between the community and the station; 2. the nature and amount of local programming; 3. the nature and amount, specifically, of political programming; 4. underserved audiences, i.e. are the communities whose needs have not been addressed?; 5. disaster warnings and whether, say, there is someone physically at the station to relay them; 6. the relationship of network and affiliate, and whether that can an impediment to local decision-making (preemption of programming, content issues); 7. payola and sponsorship identification (radio pay-for-play rather than TV product integration); 8. the adequacy of license renewal procedures; and 9. additional spectrum allocations that might increase the diversity of voices.It is a laundry list that has broadcasters fearing the kind of regulatory heavy hand cable has long complained of from this commission.
Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein generally supported the localism initiatives but said they wished they had been final rules rather than proposals. They worried that the final rules might be watered down and were concerned about the commission's willingness to enforce them.
"We need to put meat in the sandwich we deliver," Adelstein said. "Why not a final order," Copps added, "rather than just good ideas?" He said he was skeptical but would work with the chairman to "try to move these things along.” http://www.broadcastingcable.com/index.asp?layout=article&articleid=CA6513849
Citizen Review Boards. The Democrats want to establish citizen review boards for tv and radio stations. One can only imagine the mischief this would create. What would be the criteria for appointing people to the board? Would a station criticize a government body, local or federal, if the allies of that government were on the board? Would there be a board for each station or just one for that community? What powers would such a review board have? Would local or federal governments appoint the members? How much weight would be given to its recommendations for the renewal of a license? If the license is renewed every three years, a station would be forced to become a trollop, trying to please the government in order to stay in business.
It is also telling that Democrats want to interfere in the relationship between the network and its affiliates, by advocating the government take control of a station's content away from its owners. The Democrats complain about stations ignoring "underserved audiences." How exactly does one determine what constitutes an "underserved audience"? Ratings? Sociological studies? Focus group polling? Such a vague goal is merely an excuse to give the government more control over content as some government official will determine what audience is "underserved" (after cooking the statistics to support the ruling) and issue a decree to the offending station to whom it will market its programming (CRA in Broadcasting anyone?).
The press has its freedoms because the Founding Fathers knew government needs a watchdog. The public has a right to information provided by a media free from any form of government influence if the government is truly to be for the people and by the people. What Obama and the Democrats desire is to shield themselves from media scrutiny under the masquerade of serving the community, a tactic used by most despots and tyrants. The public is harmed when the media is controlled by a few large corporations or the government, even in the age of the internet. While there may be some legitimate complaints about how media consolidation harms local communities, such concerns can be addressed by simply re-imposing some of the limits on ownership of media outlets in a market.
However, the Democrats desire to create their own version of Huey Long's Louisiana, seeking to create Community Review Boards, make the stations constantly plead for license renewals, give outside groups more power to veto said renewals, and dictate what the content should be, all under the guise of "protecting" the "underserved" and "the community". If a Republican government came up with these ideas, one can only imagine the shrieking and gnashing of teeth among the media that would occur. However, the media does not mind selling its soul as long as it serves The Cause. Huey P. Long took over the media in Louisiana while promising to "Share the Wealth". The Democrats intend to do the same while the media doesn't just sell them the rope but ties the noose for them as well.