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McCain's Media-Lite

Platform mum on TV issues 9/05/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The Republican Party platform talks little about media issues, despite the oft-expressed media policy concerns of its presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.

That puts it in strong contrast to the Democratic platform, which bears the distinctive imprint of Sen. Barack Obama's relatively aggressive communications agenda, as outlined earlier to B&C and others.

The Republican platform, adopted at last week's convention in St. Paul, Minn., is silent on the issues of network neutrality, media ownership, broadband penetration, content control of the media and, surprisingly, cable a la carte. McCain's support of a la carte had been something of a drumbeat issue for the senator, who is the former chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which deals with communications policy issues.

The McCain campaign did not return a call for comment.

Erik Huey, a veteran Democratic political strategist and partner with the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton in Washington, called it “curious” that McCain's platform didn't contain much communications policy, “given his prominence on the Commerce Committee over the past decade.”

But Huey had some theories, including that the campaign was not focusing on those issues because “you don't want to take on any battles you don't need to take on. Maybe [McCain] just said, 'We'll table [a la carte]. I don't want to get into a fight with friends in the cable industry, particularly when those folks are making contributions to the campaign.'”

Huey admitted it just might be that the campaign has bigger fish to fry. “The reality is oftentimes that the communications issues, compared to some of the bigger issues, get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

In the 67-page Republican platform, the only mention of television is a reference to the government-run broadcasting service to Cuba, TV Marti. “Cable” and “media” do not appear at all, and “broadband” comes up once in reference to providing long-distance education.

The Internet is referred to numerous times, including the party's desire to “permanently” ban Internet access taxes, block any new “cellphone taxes,” and block online child porn, predators and Internet gambling.

By contrast, the new Democratic platform bears Obama's clear communications stamp. Obama has been active on the media ownership diversity front, weighing in at an FCC hearing in Chicago and co-sponsoring the bill that would block the FCC's move to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.

The Democratic platform mirrors that concern, proclaiming that the party “will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum.”

It also includes “a promise to protect the Internet's traditional openness,” proposes the creation of a chief technology officer, and promotes giving parents “the tools and information to manage what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment,” all policies promoted by Obama. (The Democratic platform committee's co-chair is Judith McHale, former head of Discovery Channel.)

“I think those ideas tie into Obama's larger narrative of democratization of the country,” Huey said. In McCain's case, “taking on the cable companies on a la carte, say, could be considered pro-family by the religious right and is in keeping with his maverick image. But the question is how much of a maverick he wants to be and on what issues.”

March