Barack Obama, arguably the first new-media president, takes the oath of office with media issues prominently on his agenda.
Perhaps more than at any other time, events have conspired to make that unavoidable. He takes over only four weeks before one of the biggest technological changes in TV history is due to begin, and at a time when access to the newest video and data communications medium, the Internet, is crucial to participation in the national dialogue. The details of that media-centric agenda are part of a much larger stimulus package to get the nation out of a deep and lingering recession.
Sustaining the economic viability of the media directly relates to keeping the nation informed, entertained and safe, something that should be top of mind when the new administration and Congress work out the details of the stimulus package.
The Obama plan includes both $6 billion to spur the rollout of broadband to areas where it is still lacking, and $650 million to complete the analog-to-digital conversion that is, officially, still supposed to happen on Feb. 17, but which will almost certainly be pushed back to the summer. (Late last week, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., recommended June 12.)
The President-elect has made broadband rollout a key element of his recovery plan. And he has backed up the bold step of calling for the delay in the DTV transition with money to make sure nobody is left behind.
Obama's presumptive choice for the next FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, also should provide some comfort to those who have been seeking new management after the years of Kevin Martin as chairman. Genachowski is a Democrat, and so will not be afraid to press public interest issues. We can expect to disagree sometimes on the definition of that interest, and we will argue against overregulation or misplaced regulation. But Genachowski comes advertised as a reasonable and thoughtful former Hill and FCC staffer who also has worked in the media and in the venture capital sector. He knows the territory.
Obama has talked a good case about the importance of helping the economy. He has also backed network neutrality legislation that many, including this page, argue could be an anti-stimulus. That will wind up being a balancing act between competing goals, so having a former legal aide to two Supreme Court justices in Genachowski gives us hope he would look at that filter, rather than a political bias.
There has been much talk about the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which once forced broadcasters to report both sides of controversial issues and became an invitation to government meddling. We will hold the new president to his stated opposition to that doctrine's return. That should include using his veto pen.
The media savvy of the new administration comes as no surprise. This has been the most media-centric campaign ever, and Barack Obama won partly because of his ability to mobilize and organize Internet forces. We have also seen a notably accessible and responsive transition press team. From our vantage point, the new president is off to a good start.