The FCC's Media Bureau came up with an intriguing observation Monday in its approval of the renewal of KWWL(TV) Waterloo, Iowa.
In pointing out that news programming has strong First Amendment protection–it denied a challenge to the stations' license that had been based on editorials it ran–the bureau offers this fascinating phrase: "Section 326 of the [Communications] Act and the First Amendment to the Constitution usually prohibit any Commission actions that would improperly interfere [both emphases ours] with the programming decisions of licensees."
Is that an editorial comment?
Section 326 reads: "Nothing in this Act shall be understood or construed to give the commission the power of censorship over the radio communications or signals of transmitted by any radio station [TV had not been established in 1934], and no regulation of condition shall be promulgated or fixed by the Commission which shal interfere with the right of free speech by means of radio communiation."
So, the bureau is saying that sometimes the Act and the First Amendment do permit the FCC to "improperly interfere with the programming decisions of licensees." I don't agree that either grants that power, though clearly some at the FCC infer it.
My guess is they are referring to the improper interference of indecency regulation, which is the one area where the FCC feels emboldened to stick a blue nose with seeming bipartisan impunity.
My guess–OK, I'm almost sure of it–is that the "usually" was supposed to be a reference to the indecency regulation the FCC claims authority for (albeit with the approval of a misguided Supreme Court), but that it was an uncareful sentence parser over at the Portals (the FCC's headquarters) who let it be wedded, albeit appropriately in my opinion, with the "improperly interfere," which is what I think the FCC does every time it strays from 326's thou shalt not.
Apparently the Media Burea, though probably inadvertently, agrees.
By John Eggerton