The worst example of overreaching government by the Martin FCC is its current investigation into how TV stations are using video news releases. As RTNDA is asking, it needs to back off now.
CC Goldwater has produced an HBO documentary about her grandfather, the late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater suggests that Goldwater might not recognize the 21st century Republican Party, one driven by religious zealots determined to impose their sense of morality on the rest of us and by neo-cons who have brought us a new era of big, intrusive government.
I’m betting that Mr. Conservative would be scratching his head over the doings of the current FCC, which has a Republican chairman and majority, but is acting as if it were a panel assembled by Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy. This Bush-Martin commission is a long way from the Reagan-Fowler commission of the 1980s.
The Martin FCC is betraying traditional, small-government Republican principals in its crackdown on broadcast indecency, its sudden interest in media’s role in childhood obesity and its mindless extension of children’s programming rules to digital broadcasting.
But the worst example of overreaching government by the Martin FCC is its current investigation into how TV stations are using video news releases. The newsroom is a place that no government official should want to be, especially a Republican. But, right now, with its letters of inquiry, the FCC is right in the middle of more than three dozen newsrooms, looking over the shoulder of news directors, producers and reporters.
The Radio-Television News Directors Association last week petitioned the FCC to call off its investigation. “Determining the content of a newscast, including when and how to identify sources, is at the very heart of the responsibilities of electronic journalists, and these decisions must remain far removed from government involvement and supervision,” the petition argues. “The government would not dream of inserting itself into a print newsroom to dictate or otherwise oversee how newspaper editors utilized press releases.”
Much of the concern about VNRs stems from reports that the Bush administration was making heavy use of them to sell its policies. Some called it domestic propaganda. Now, if the government wants to curtail the executive branch’s ability to send out VNRs, that’s fine. But it should not get in the way of anybody receiving and using VNRs, regardless of their source.
The use of VNRs is self-regulating. Viewers can sniff out their indiscriminate use and will avoid newscast that rely too heavily on them. TV stations have been embarrassed repeatedly by press reports of their use, particularly those from the Bush administration, and the lack of responsibility shown in airing them without proper attribution.
By harassing TV stations about VNRs, the FCC has climbed in bed with the brain-dead advocacy group, the Center for Media and Democracy. The FCC investigation springs from a study the group did into VNR use. The CMD apparently wants greater government regulation and oversight of TV news. At the same time, it wants TV news to be a more aggressive government watchdog. It’s too dumb to see the inherent conflict in those goals.
Next August, the broadcasting industry will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the FCC’s repeal of the cursed Fairness Doctrine, the unfair broadcast content regulation that was the very symbol of broadcasters’ second-class, First Amendment status. Reagan-appointed FCC Chairman FCC Dennis Patrick drove a spike through the heart of the doctrine, despite warnings from a hostile Congress, then totally controlled by Democrats.
In the libertarian spirit of Reagan, Patrick and, yes, Barry Goldwater, the FCC should do what RTNDA asks. It should immediately tell broadcasters to ignore the investigative letters and vow never again to attempt to police a broadcast newsroom. Here’s a simple guideline for the FCC in journalistic matters: If you cannot do it to a newspaper, you shouldn’t do it to a TV station.