The former chief of the FCC Media Bureau tells those running agency now that it’s too late to save broadcasting by simply relaxing the ownership restrictions. It’s going to take “bolder steps,” namely, abolishing indecency restrictions and giving stations property rights to spectrum.
As he did when he was running the FCC Media Bureau under Chairman Michael Powell in the early 2000s, Ken Ferree believes that the FCC should relax its broadcast ownership restrictions, but he now also believes that that step alone will not be enough to save broadcasting and the news and entertainment it provides.
“Bolder steps” may be required for TV and radio stations to flourish again, Ferree said yesterday at an FCC workshop, part of the congressionally mandated review of the commission’s broadcast ownership rules.
“The FCC should abolish archaic broadcast speech restrictions so that broadcasters can compete with new media platforms that enjoy full First Amendment protection,” he said.
“Even more dramatically, Congress could recognize that broadcasters hold a property interest in their licenses and allow them to use their assigned spectrum in the most efficient manner as determined by free people interacting in free markets — or to trade or sell it to those who world.”
Ferree, now a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, portrayed broadcasting as being badly in need of help, as an “increasingly marginal player in the media world” that is attracting little interest from the financial community.
“I don’t think anybody particularly cares what the FCC ownership limits are anymore because noboby is interested in buying stations,” he said.
How many stations one can own is no longer the question, he said. The question is “how will anyone sustain audiences substantial enough to pay for serious programming?”
“As I said when we were involved in this exercise in 2003, if you love journalists, you’ve got to love those who pay them to do their work.”
Ferree seemed resigned to the fact that the FCC will never get the real question of how to help broadcasting keep doing what it’s doing.
“I suspect that this will end up being a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing really at the end of the day.”