Historically, Broadcasting & Cable does not pick favorites in political races. But we do have issues that drive our editorial page, and to a large degree determine the health and well-being of the media.
First, the next administration could hardly be worse than the current one in terms of openness to the public and journalists. Civil liberties have been trampled in the name of national security. The Bush White House has been hostile to the press, misled the press, used the press, and in some cases even impersonated the press. Our next president, first and foremost, must be truthful and forthcoming, not deceptive. And so we are a bit concerned by a vice presidential candidate like Sarah Palin who keeps away from the press like, well, Dick Cheney.
Congress was on the verge of passing a national shield law when the Wall Street crisis diverted its attention. That's not so bad because President Bush vowed to veto it. We would urge the new president to sign such legislation; Obama and McCain support it. One of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that gets too little attention is the erosion of a free, robust press.
The next president should repudiate the current television content crackdown over alleged “indecent” material. It is fitting coincidence that the same day voters go to the polls, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over the FCC's moral crusade. We'd urge the next president to restrict FCC's war on television content.
There is a reasonable approach to protecting children from inappropriate material: using the existing safeguards and urging parental oversight. In that regard, Sen. Barack Obama's speech after his nomination at the Democratic convention comforted us. He said that “we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents, that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework...Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility, that's the essence of America's promise.”
We contend the rumored return of the Fairness Doctrine is a manufactured crisis, particularly given the assurances we have gotten from the Obama camp that he does not support it—Sen. John McCain is strongly opposed—but Obama's opposition might not extend to a veto, or there could be a veto-proof margin for the Democrats.
The next administration must conclude that limiting ownership of TV/radio stations and newspapers is so last century. If legislators and regulators were skeptical of the declining health of newspapers or TV stations, the current economy should remove any doubt. And Obama's success on the Internet should allay fears that Big Media is stifling other voices from emerging. Indeed, the new battleground is online, where large media companies will need to find a way to manage their video-hungry networks without discriminating against content providers. That means transparency and notice, and it probably means an opt-in system for allowing your Web surfing data to help determine the ads delivered to your virtual doorstep.
Finally, the next president needs a nimble transition team in charge of handling the switch to digital, which happens within three weeks or so of Inauguration Day.
The analog shut-off, we hope, is the least of his problems.