Awards You Wouldn't Want

Guest Commentary

During the Clinton years, Blair Levin was chief of staff to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Since then, he has joined Legg Mason as a telecommunications and media regulatory analyst. He has also lightened up. Here are his TV and radio awards for 2003:

Father of the Year

Rupert Murdoch.
First dad ever to appoint one child CEO of a publicly traded company and father another in the same year. Who says the man who gave us Paradise Hotel
and made Paris Hilton a (television) star isn't committed to "family values"?

Broadcast Persons of the Year

First Place:
Howard Dean, for breaking the public-finance limits, forcing Sen. John Kerry to tap family resources, and giving Bush fundraisers the impetus to raise even more, thus promising broadcasters in the swing states an even bigger year.

Runner Up:
Darrell Issa, who funded the California recall, which in turn provided California broadcasters a nice extra $48 million in revenues.

Isaac Newton Mathematical Precision Award

The congressional leadership and the White House, for deciding that the right limit for the national television-ownership cap was precisely 39%, a number that precisely—and just coincidentally—protects News Corp./Fox and Viacom/CBS from having to divest any properties.

The Prince and the Pauper Award

Michael Eisner.
He caused titters throughout the media public-policy world by sending the FCC an e-mail opposing rules to allow greater media consolidation. But he turned out to be not the Disney CEO but a geologist in Maryland.

The Metamorphosis Award

The Federal Courts of Appeals, which, in decision after decision, are working toward transforming themselves into a regulatory agency.

The Bartelby, the Scrivener Award

Infinity Broadcasting.
When fined $357,000 for the 2002 Opie & Anthony
broadcast featuring a description of certain acts taking place in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, Infinity did not challenge the FCC's decision. Rather, it simply declined to pay the fine, saying, in effect, "We prefer not to."

The William Safire Award For Linguistics

The FCC Enforcement Bureau
for rejecting viewer complaints against TV stations that aired singer Bono's use of the f-word during a live music-awards show, on the grounds that the word was used "as an adjective ... to emphasize an exclamation ... rather than as a description of sexual ... activity."

The Chubby Checkers Limbo "How low can you go" Award

Low: The American viewing public.
During the height of the Iraq war, TV news war coverage drew a smaller audience than sitcom repeats.

What constitutes news.
The FCC granted The Howard Stern Show
an exemption to equal-time rules as a "bona fide news interview" for purposes of interviewing Mary Carey and that other actor running for governor of California.

Programming options.
The cable industry, which gave us Beavis and Butt-head, has warned that giving broadcasters the right to multicast will cause the cable lineup to be "dumbed-down."