Response to "Disclosure Rule The First Step Toward Quotas"

Miscellaneous Media Writings, February 6, 2012

In Februrary 2012, the website TVNewsCheck published an op-ed against the then-proposed FCC's rule changes putting online the contents of a TV station's public file (a rule which the commercial television broadcasters lobbied against and wrote passionately against, but which curiously enough they never mentioned on the television stations they command). I felt that the op-ed -- a sad attempt at an argument -- deserved a response back, so I did in the comments form and repost my response here as a public service.

This isn't an argument. It's bad comedy.

(1) "It's all right there on the screen. No secrets." Hilarious. I'm not looking forward to my NBC affiliate pre-empting the Super Bowl for the television adaptation of "Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy", showing the sordid early history of the set-up of broadcast radio (giving way to that of broadcast television), replete with regulatory capture by the broadcast industry right from the days of the old Federal Radio Commission. There'll be an audience during that time, and for once they'll actually learn something important. But hey, maybe I'm being unrealistic. Then let me suggest this instead: Stations can disclose what video news releases they peddle as "news", which I'm still waiting for commercial broadcasters to come clean on. No secrets, right?

(2) Selling licenses isn't an enforcement mechanism, because the value of licenses has overall increased, and amounts to a license to print money for the license holders. And the enforcement of "children's programming quota" is a joke. WGN in Chicago lists "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" for its quota (some educational show there, eh? Kids are supposed to learn witchcraft?). But hey, broadcasters fulfilled their requirement, right?

(3) Broadcast media is subject to regulations by the FCC because theoretically at least anyone can start a rival newspaper, but broadcast spectrum is a finite resource. But there is plenty of evidence to counteract this: A. The FCC is and has been captured by industry, to the point where the old FCC joke is, be careful who you regulate today, that could be your next boss. B. Both big newspapers and big broadcasters are overwhelmingly part of larger mass-media conglomerates, so the supposed rivalrly is a toothless one for many areas. C. It's damn hard to start a newspaper; that's a story of corporate consolidation and control even older than the one for radio and TV.

(4) Government nationalized the spectrum but that nationalization was done at the hands of, and for the benefit of, the big radio barons and commercial radio interests. See, for example, General Order 40 in 1927, which handed off the largest and choicest frequencies to the commercial broadcasters and radio interests. The subsequent hearings on Capitol Hill were a veritable conga line of commercial radio apologists.