New Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell took the opportunity of a keynote speech to a Media Institute dinner in Washington Monday night to make the point that the free speech being celebrated at the dinner has a matching responsibility. "For each right, an obligation," he said ,before putting a finer point on it: Control content or government will almost certainly do it for you.
In his first speech on the issue of content control, McDowell called for private-sector solutions but brandished the stick behind the carrot.
McDowell espoused a general free-market philosophy that resonated with the industry crowd, saying that the government should get out of the way and remove barriers to entry, "trusting free people acting within free markets to make better decisions than government."
But there are times, he said, when the government should address market failure, applying narrowly tailored remedies. He suggested, without explicitly saying it, that a lack of self-regulation of content would be such a failure.
"We must be careful not to abuse our freedoms he said, adding that as parents of two young children--with a third on the way--he and his wife think about how the media will "shape them" and their values.
Saying "we may be approaching another crossroads of regulation of content," McDowell pitched traveling together down the road of self-regulation.
"Some argue that the marketplace has failed to protect children and that additional government intervention is needed," he said, though he did not put himself squarely in that camp, instead saying he wanted to "work together to strive toward more private-sector solutions."
But he also had a warning: "Please keep in mind that all five members of the FCC are watching," followed by the stick. "In the absence of self-regulation," he said, "government-mandated regulation is sure to fill the vacuum."
Time Warner Cable President/CEO Glenn Britt, who was being honored by The Media Institute, also spoke about the responsibility that goes with freedom, saying Time Warner was emphasizing parental control and media education.