Questions MRC President Bozell Urges the Senate Oversight Committee to Ask of FCC Chair Nominee Genachowski
Some people seeking radical changes to the way the radio industry is regulated have deemed the industry and the regulatory regime "broken," and in need of their drastic prescriptions to repair it. Would you say that the radio industry is "broken?"
If he says "No":
Since you say it's not broken, you would agree that there is no need for the sort of radical, political content-affecting enforcement of "localism" or "media diversity" regulations or a reimposition of the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine for which these people have called, correct?
Regarding "Media Diversity":
How far are you going to go in enforcing your interpretation of "media diversity" regulations? Will you force existing license holders to give up their stations so as to make them available for new, minority owners? Will you issue extra, "pending" licenses to minority interests - and then intentionally refuse license renewal of non-minority owners to make way for the waiting minority interests?
Any of these scenarios would obviously dramatically affect on-air political content, and therefore be a direct assault on the First Amendment free speech rights of these broadcasters, both the on-air talent and the station owners. How do you intend to enforce your interpretation of "media diversity" regulations without violating these broadcasters' First Amendment right of political free speech?
Regarding the duration of FCC broadcast licenses. The current radio license term is eight years. Groups like the Center for American Progress have called for that period to be reduced to just three - in the interest of opening up the ownership pool and increasing the number of station owners. Of special concern to them in their desire to broaden the ownership base is minorities seeking to own stations.
But often there is a tremendous capital investment required to acquire a station and get it off the ground. Shortening the license period would severely limit the ability of investors to recover their investment - let alone turn a profit. Thus, shortening the license period would be a terrible assault on the business viability of the radio industry.
And this would be particularly harmful to minority owners, the group these term-shortening proponents purport to help. Several minority interest group representatives stated during the May 7 FCC Media Diversity hearing that they have a particularly difficult time raising the capital necessary to get into the radio business. Shortening the license term would therefore potentially be even more damaging to them.
With all of this in mind, do you favor shortening the license period for radio broadcasters? And if so, how can you rationalize it given the industry ramifications?
Do you wish to reduce the number of local and national stations any one ownership group may have? If so, how do you plan to implement and enforce these limitations without it unconstitutionally affecting on-air political content?
Regarding the mis-named "Fairness" Doctrine:
The Federal Communications Commission rescinded in 1987 the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine, deeming it an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom of speech.
But in just the last couple of years, at least seventeen members of Congress have expressed their desire to see this form of government censorship reimposed.
Last June, a spokesman for then-candidate Barack Obama stated publicly that President Obama views the mis-named "Fairness" Doctrine as a "distraction" and does not want to see it reinstated. But on February 15, President Obama's advisor David Axelrod was asked by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday "Will you rule out reimposing the Fairness Doctrine?"
To which Mr. Axelrod responded "I'm going to leave that issue to Julius Genachowski, our new head of the FCC, to, and the President, to discuss. So I don't have an answer for you now."
Do you, Mr. Genachowski, have an answer for us now? Have you discussed the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine with the President? Will you reimpose it? Where do you stand on this form of outright regulatory censorship?
Regarding the FCC regulation known as "localism." The concept of the "localism" regulation is in and of itself not a bad thing. There is, however, a troubling aspect of its enforcement about which I would like to ask you now - that being the proposed "local content boards."
These are panels ostensibly made-up of citizens in a particular broadcast area who monitor their local stations so as to ensure they are meeting the community's standards.
However, every station in America already faces the daily scrutiny of two local content boards - its listeners and its advertisers. If a station fails to meet the standards of their local community members - the listeners - they will have no advertisers, which would very quickly mean they would no longer be broadcasting.
In short, if they fail to meet the needs of the local listening audience, they will lose their financial ability to broadcast well before it comes time for their FCC license renewal.
This is how the free market works as applied to radio. The free market has led to talk radio being populated largely by conservative and Christian hosts. In community after community, local listeners have made their content decisions - liberal talk radio simply hasn't garnered the numbers of listeners that conservative talk has.
This isn't the result of a vast right-wing broadcast conspiracy. It is the result of tens of millions of Americans every day deciding for themselves to whom they want to listen.
Conservative talk has not always and forever dominated the airwaves. Just twenty-two years ago, the radio industry conventional wisdom was that local audiences would not listen to non-local hosts. There was barely any such thing in 1987 as syndicated radio - let alone conservative-dominated syndicated talk radio.
But an unknown host by the name of Rush Limbaugh had an idea that there was a syndicated market for his product - and risked his career to prove it. And he was right. Limbaugh, and his conservative colleagues, built the syndicated talk radio industry. Slowly, gradually, through the free market process of garnering a progressively larger audience share. Again, not a conspiracy - a free market success story.
Their audiences and their advertisers are their "content boards" - and they are obviously meeting their needs.
Now to the proposed extra-market regulatory FCC "local content boards." These boards would seem to me to be superfluous and, unfortunately, ripe for abuse. They could quickly become populated by members of ideological grievance groups - like ACORN, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others. These activist gatherings - posing under the "public interest" guise of "local content boards" - would harangue conservative and Christian talk stations and file multiple "complaints" against them with the FCC claiming they aren't meeting the "local needs of the community."
No matter that their consistently high ratings clearly indicate otherwise. These complaints would be based purely on ideology - liberals seeking to silence popular conservative and Christian talk hosts via FCC regulation.
My questions to you are: Do you desire to see these proposed "local content boards" become a reality? If so, what review process will you have in place for their complaints to ensure that they are not abused in the manner I just described? Will you promise here and now to stand against ANY such efforts by anyone seeking to use these "local content boards" for partisan political purposes?
To schedule an interview with MRC President Brent Bozell or another MRC spokesperson, please contact Tim Scheiderer (x. 126) or Colleen O'Boyle (x. 122) at (703) 683-5004. !->!->