A Half Century Without the Fairness Doctrine

August 4, 2012

Twenty-five years ago today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order effectively repealing the infamous broadcast “Fairness Doctrine.” The Doctrine required that broadcast licensees had to present reasonable opportunity for the airing of contesting points of view when covering issues of public importance to their community. For nearly 40 years, it was upheld in the name of protecting the ‘public interest.’

Lost in this more positive-right view of freedom of speech often espoused by proponents of the Doctrine was the harm it had on the more negative-right view of freedom of speech. But over time the negative-right view won out. It became viewed as a restriction on free speech, creating a “chilling effect” which led broadcasters to avoid covering any controversial public issues due to the requirement to ensure all sides of the issue were covered.

To commemorate the repeal, Reason.tv has posted the following interview with Thomas Hazlett, a professor of law and economics at George Mason University, discussing the history and various issues with the Doctrine:

In addition, I actually wrote my master’s thesis on the subject, relating it to the two conceptions of liberty: positive and negative, as postulated by Isaiah Berlin. In addition to the “chilling effect” argument, I also argued in the thesis that the positive-right conception exemplified in the Doctrine lends itself to an uncomfortable level of paternalism on the part of government regulators and a constitutional abridgement of negative-right speech. For those with probably too much time on their hands, all 184 pages can be read here.

Reasons Not to Regulate the Internet

June 21, 2010

Here’s a recent video from Reason.tv on reasons why the FCC should not get itself involved in regulation of the internet:

The point raised in the last part of the clip rasing the specter of the FCC’s inevitable regulation of internet content (not just traffic as it now wants to) should not be overlooked. Throughout its history of regulating the broadcast spectrum, it has been more than happy to regulate airwave content — even political content — all in the name of the nebulous “public interest.” There’s no reason to doubt it wouldn’t eventually like to do the same with the internet.

* Note: I’m currently writing my graduate thesis on the FCC and its regulation of political content over the airwaves.

* The preceding was originally posted on the Young Americans for Liberty blog.

‘Jurisdiction Over Everything’

May 20, 2010

Reason.tv has posted this audio of a legal aide to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps jokingly admitting that her boss would “love to have jurisdiction over everything”:

(More on the FCC’s dubious role in regulating communications in the name of the supposed “public interest”  here, here and here.)

* The preceding was also posted on the Young Americans for Liberty blog.

FCC Intent on Regulating Net

April 12, 2010

Just like when the mediums of radio and television were new technologies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is power-hungry once again to regulate a new medium. And it is moving full-steam ahead, despite a recent court ruling limiting the ability of the Commission to regulate.

At question is the FCC’s goal to ensure so-called “network neutrality.” The Commission has been concerned with actions by internet service providers (ISPs) to limit or block the ability of users to access certain services or content over their networks. It had proposed implementing new rules restricting the ability of ISPs to do so. The only problem: According to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the FCC has no statutory basis to justify such regulation.

But, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is still pursuing the Commission’s larger broadband internet plan. The likely results of such added meddling in the free market by a government regulatory agency will be less competition and more government control. This has always been the case with the FCC, whose statutory authority under the Communications Act has been to regulate in the name of the nebulous “public interest” — however that may be defined by regulators at any given time.

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Regulating the Internet

February 11, 2010

A recent report from the Reason Foundation highlights the problems and possible unintended consequences of proposed FCC “network neutrality” regulations on the wireless industry. It can be viewed here.

The report notes the technological innovation and declining prices that have developed in wireless services and products, concluding the following:

And it has all happened without government oversight, guidance, control or taxpayer-funded interventions of any kind. Consumers are highly satisfied, companies have not needed to be bailed out, and the prospects for further innovation are brighter than ever. It should be a source of serious concern to consumers that the federal government considers this area of private commerce to need aggressive new layers of regulatory control.

To sum it up, government regulators intend to heap further regulation on a thriving and competitive industry that has been responsible for great technological advances in the last several years. The likely result: less competition and less technological advances.

It reminds me of this humorous quote from Ronald Reagan concerning government’s misguided treatment of the economy:

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

“Free” Phones & Minutes

November 28, 2009

Here’s a Web site I stumbled on a while back touting free cell phones, sponsored by the government: SafeLink Wireless. The service also provides free airtime in certain circumstances.

PolitiFact found the following out about an FCC program that enables this type of “free” service:

The law required the FCC to create the Universal Service Fund, a pool of money subsidized by small charges on our phone bills (we checked our bill and found we kicked in $2.80 last month) and redistributed to the low-income service programs as well as programs that bring telecommunications services to rural areas and schools.

Customers who actually pay their phone bills are subsidizing those who do not. Like all other “free” government programs, in the end someone is paying.

Protecting the “Public Interest”

November 2, 2009

This latest article concerning the FCC’s media-ownership rules further highlights the problems with government appointees deciding what is in the public’s interest.

Early in the 1900’s, the federal government decided it was wise to regulate the broadcast spectrum in the name of “the public interest, cfcc_logoonvenience, or necessity.” It did so by heaping several regulations on broadcasters — ranging from the misnamed “fairness doctrine” to children’s programming requirements to guidelines concerning “diversity” and “localism.”

The questionable justification for this regulation has been the scarcity of broadcast frequencies. Because the number of broadcast frequencies is scarce, it was argued that they must be allocated and regulated with the “public interest” in mind — preventing the medium from being dominated by the personal interests of the private broadcast station owners (and many argue that this “chills” the free speech rights of broadcasters).

The aforementioned article includes the views of Michael Copps, one FCC commissioner, on the state of broadcasting and its public interest role. His views are exemplified in the following passage: Read the rest of this entry »

Free Speech and the Diversity Chief

September 1, 2009

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:

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