In the past, FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps has boldly proclaimed, “I love government.” However defensible that statement might be when it comes to national defense, the justice system and the social safety net, it puts Copps squarely at odds with our Founding Fathers when it comes to speech and journalism — the two primary functions of broadcasters.
That acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps would choose the May 14 “Free Press Summit” as the venue to endorse reduced license terms and increased “public interest obligations” for broadcasters is as insulting as it is Orwellian. The “Free Press” is enshrined in the First Amendment, which unequivocally states that, “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech … or of the press.” Mr. Copps neglected to explain how further empowering the unelected FCC to control broadcast content and intimidate broadcasters comports with “no law.”
In the past, Mr. Copps has boldly proclaimed, “I love government.” However defensible that statement might be when it comes to national defense, the justice system and the social safety net, it puts Copps squarely at odds with our Founding Fathers when it comes to speech and journalism — the two primary functions of broadcasters. In those crucial areas, the Founders obviously abhorred government. There is certainly no language in the Constitution implying that operating under a government license diminishes one’s First Amendment rights.
Furthermore, unlike the railroads, which received vast land grants and subsidies from the government, and the oil companies which lease federal lands and the wireless carriers who pay for spectrum, broadcasters have always made their product available free to the American people.What could be more “in the public interest” than that?
In the broadcasting business model, if a station doesn’t provide programming that garners a sufficient audience, it won’t sell enough advertising and goes out of business. This is surely the most democratic system for regulating media content ever devised by man.
While no government funds were used to build our thousands of commercial broadcasting stations, the federal Department of Defense spent billions of taxpayer dollars to build-out ARPANET, the foundation for today’s Internet. Why, then, is the government not foisting “public interest obligations” onto Web content providers? How does it justify torturing broadcasters over fleeting expletives and momentary “wardrobe malfunctions” while allowing the Web to become a pipeline of prodigious prurience to our kids’ computers?
In a never-ending quest to acquire listeners and viewers, American broadcasters built the world’s most formidable entertainment and information infrastructure. Our broadcasting system is the most localized on earth, enables every American to get both local news and high-cost sports and Hollywood entertainment for free (if they choose), and, though all-too-infrequently acknowledged, undergirds the multi-billion dollar pay TV, movie and music industries.
Now, this vital American institution — battered by a brutal economic downturn, besieged by competitors harnessing government-licensed satellite spectrum and the government-founded Internet, and beleaguered by politicians, regulators and special interest groups — is in crisis. And broadcasters aren’t even requesting a bail-out. They’re just asking Commissioner Copps and his compatriots to, at long last, adhere to the First Amendment — and leave them alone.
Lee Spieckerman heads SpieckermanMedia LLC, a digital television content provider and strategic consulting firm.You may contact him at l[email protected].