Editorial: Fighting ChanceNothing should prevent the FCC from taking the steps to give broadcasters a chance in the high-stakes poker game for the digital future 7/18/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Nothing in a recent court decision should prevent
the FCC from taking the steps it should to
give broadcasters a fighting chance in the high-stakes poker game for the digital future, currently being played with a
deck that often appears stacked against free, over-the-air broadcasting.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has pointed to the over-the-air audience
as dwindling, while beating the drum for broadband. But given the results
of the FCC’s own Future of Media study, which found that broadcast news
remains a key link to communities, broadcasters should be given a chance to
compete on a more level playing field with those vaunted new technologies.
Not to burst the balloons of all those folks claiming that a federal appeals
court is encouraging the FCC to re-regulate broadcasting—about the last thing
the industry needs as it fights for its life—but the Third Circuit did not rule on
whether the FCC should lift the ban on newspaper-broadcast crossownership.
The court, in restoring the ban, ruled not on the content of the rule change,
but the way it was conveyed to the public in an Op-Ed only four weeks before
a vote. We can quibble over whether that was sufficient notice or not, since it
was the product of 18 months of work that included numerous hearings. The
FCC does not always spell out exactly what it’s going to do before it does it.
But whether or not the way the decision was publicized was procedurally
defective has no bearing on whether it was the right thing to do. Fix
that problem, then go all in and scrap the ban.
A trio of FCC chairmen—Democratic and Republican—have already
advocated getting rid of the ban, while the FCC’s Future of Media report
advised the commission to look at the potential upsides, as well as downsides,
of allowing for more consolidation.
“In terms of public policy, many rules intended to advance public interest
goals are ineffective—and out of sync with the information needs of
communities and the nature of modern local media markets,” said the Future
of Media report. “In some cases, policies do not achieve their intended
goals. In other cases, policies that might have once made sense have not
kept up with changes in media markets.”
One of the report’s goals was to inform the FCC’s current media ownership
review. The above guidance, which could have been targeted directly
to the decades-old ban, should be one of those guiding principles.
Basically, what the Third Circuit ruled was that the FCC had the authority
to modify or not modify its media ownership rules. No quibble with that here.
The FCC needs to free broadcasters to innovate by loosening outdated
regs. Oh, and while the commission is at it, leave them enough spectrum
so that ownership relief will not be a moot point.