11/24/2008 8:00 AM
A change in presidential administrations always encourages pundits (myself included) to engage in predictions in how the newcomers will manage, regulate, control and otherwise force themselves upon the rest of us. For the party in power, its members always predict a new attitude, more cooperation, outreaching to the other side, better solutions and smooth sailing. For the defeated party, forecasts of payback and retribution are the more common line.
So, as our nation moves towards a change in management, I too will offer my perspective on potential changes. Especially some that will affect our industries.
The "Wall Street Journal," reported that an industry telecom aid said, “We're going to see a more activist approach, with particular emphasis on promoting new competitors across all sectors and implementing tougher consumer protections." So, can we expect the new Democrat administration to enact tougher regulations on broadcasters? To paraphrase Sarah Palin, “You betcha.”
First, heated battle will ensue in Congress over reenacting the Fairness Doctrine. Democrats are salivating at the opportunity to silence folks like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other conservative programmers. Expect the democrats to sponsor legislation that would make it so difficult to provide what they view as a “balanced” program viewpoint, that most broadcasters will simply avoid any controversy and stop carrying right- or left-oriented programming.
Further supporting that viewpoint is that former Federal Communications Commissioner Henry Rivera was initially appointed to head the team to select the next FCC chairman. Rivera is a strong supporter of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. However, in the last couple of days, he was moved to head up the National Science Foundation review team. Seems his firm was too close to other appointees.
In his place, Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach were appointed to the FCC transition team. Werbach is an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Crawford is a professor of law at the University of Michigan, teaching communications law and Internet law.
Don’t expect the FCC review team newcomers to have any less desire to stifle talk radio or talk television.
Second, with the appointment of a cabinet-level Chief Technology Officer, expect spectrum and regulations to take on a more holistic approach. The FCC and other federal agencies will make decisions based not on what’s best for any singular industry. One likely outcome will be strong regulations supporting net neutrality.
Third, look for additional “public interest” requirements to be placed on broadcasters. Form 355 was but a first step. Broadcasters, especially television stations, will be required to run more children's, minority and ethnic programming, never mind the cost or the quality of those shows. Stations will be required to provide more disclosure and justification for their programming decisions. If you were ever involved in helping organize and conduct “public interest” meetings, you know all about the valueless routine. That and more could return under Obama.
Fourth, I expect a black female to be appointed as FCC chair. Heading the possibilities are Julia Johnson, a Florida consultant for the Video Access Alliance, and Mignon Clyburn, who has been a commissioner for the Public Service Commission of South Carolina to receive the nod. I’d put my money on Ms. Clyburn. The one male outsider being considered is Blair Levin, managing director at investment firm Stifel Nicolaus. He was former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt's chief of staff.
Broadcasters can forget about having an FCC commission with any radio or TV station experience. In Washington, it’s all about who you know, not what you know.
Fifth, some, particularly those on the left, are predicting a more cooperative spirit in Washington and in the ways things get done. Yes, for about six months. By then, the ‘ol turf battles renew with renewed vigor. The Democrats will blame the Republicans and vice versa. More won’t (hopefully) get done. Frankly, the less Congress does the better off we’ll all be.
Acknowledging that the election of America’s first black president is historical, I fail to see how that fact alone will change for the better our over-sized, over-funded and over-regulating federal bureaucracy. From all I see, expect more of the worst.
When it comes to the Feds, the best suggestion comes from my primary school teacher when she’d say, “Duck and cover.” That’s still good advice.
(Cartoons by Eric Allie and Bob Gorrell)