Free Speech and the Diversity Chief

One recent development on the free-speech front that has concerned me is the hiring of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new chief diversity officer, Mark Lloyd.

Lloyd used to work for the left-leaning Center for American Progress, where he helped write this study calling for caps on commercial radio station ownership, greater local accountability on the part of broadcasters and fees to be paid by broadcasters who don’t want to abide by certain “public interest” standards (the fees would go to fund public broadcasting). The focus of the study was on the imbalance between conservative and liberal programming, and critics charge that the proposed actions are meant to silence conservative talk radio.

Another point of controversy is one of his other proposals suggesting that radio stations not interested in abiding by public interest standards pay a licensing fee equal to their total operating costs. A discussion of this and other proposals was aired on Glenn Beck’s program on Fox News last week. Part of that discussion covered comments Lloyd made which seemed to praise Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ treatment of the media in his country (which has been less than friendly to their free-speech rights). Here is a clip:

Further adding fuel to the fire, Lloyd wrote the following in a 1998 article:

The work of the civil rights community has suffered through a sustained assault by the right. The core of that assault is to deny funding to civil rights work, silence liberal voices, and set the agenda of public debate by an opposition that is better funded, more organized, and more savvy about strategic communications. The assault on affirmative action, welfare, multi-cultural studies, immigration, and foundations supporting progressive causes has been carefully orchestrated. Combined with this assault is a relentless marketing of the failed dogma of laissez-faire economics.

He has further displayed his belief in using political control of the broadcast media as a tool to give the liberal side an advantage in this 2007 article. He wrote the following on FDR’s attempts to regulate media ownership:

Progressives should take a page from FDR’s media diversity playbook … at the end of a second FDR administration when the New Dealers were still battling a conservative print media and a conservative Supreme Court to fix the great debacle of American capitalism—the Great Depression.

What has allowed such manipulation of the broadcast press on the part of government is the before-mentioned “public interest” standard — something that has been tied to broadcasting since the government starting regulating it through the Federal Radio Commission and its broader-focused successor, the FCC. It has been argued that the scarcity of broadcast frequencies allows the government to regulate not only who gets a license but also what content they can broadcast. Programming, it is said, should serve the nebulous “public interest” and not just the private interests of the broadcaster.

It was this concern for the public interest that brought about the infamous “fairness doctrine,” whose history was filled with examples of abuse and intimidation of the broadcast press on the part of politicians. The fairness doctrine was an FCC regulation that required broadcasters to give a reasonable opportunity for conflicting points of view to be aired when discussing issues of public importance. Thankfully, the doctrine was abolished by the FCC in the Reagan years.

But critics worry that renewed calls for “diversity” and “localism” (greater accountability on the part of stations to their local communities — that means “local communities” as defined by the FCC, a regulatory arm of the government) are really disguised attempts to achieve the results the fairness doctrine made possible: a chilling effect that actually led to less discussion of issues of public importance and political manipulation of the broadcast media.

But Lloyd appears to not be all that concerned with free speech rights. He said the following on that subject:

It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press. This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other communications policies … [T]he purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules that would promote democratic governance.

Tell that to the writers of the Constitution.

One Response to Free Speech and the Diversity Chief

  1. […] Note: I’ve written previously on FCC bureaucrats here, and I’m currently writing my master’s thesis on a similar subject. Possibly related […]

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