Criticizing the FCC

Criticizing the FCC

: Now here’s the third post quoting critics going after the FCC — at long f’ing last. The latest is James Wolcott (and quoting Jim always causes such… ahem… interesting comments):

In my book, I called for the toppling of Michael Powell at the FCC, whose arrogant, anti-democratic meddling becomes more autocratic with each inflation of his neck size.

I was thinking too small, which is unusual for me.

Jeff Jarvis has a bigger, better idea: abolish the FCC. Get rid of the whole busybody, bureaucratic shebang.

This is a call which can unite liberals, conservatives, and true libertarians–in short, all those who believe the First Amendment and free speech aren’t outmoded ideals that can be breeched whenever some bully behind a desk chooses to exercise his prerogatives and grab face-time on the news. Michael Powell has become a glutton for attention and it’s time to starve him and the rest of the white-collar censors.

Amen, brother it criticism. Let’s say it again: This is a call that [sorry… once a copy editor, always a copy editor] can unite liberals, conservatives, and true libertarians.

  • Someone has to coordinate spectrum allocation though, right? Of course, it would be nice to start over on this, since the current allocation is messed up, but still some entity needs to regulate the spectrum. Or am I not seeing something?

  • Karl

    I would be amenable to the idea, if certain details can be addressed.
    The issue that leaps to mind is that the FCC is premised on the government’s exercise of eminent domain over the spectrum. Broadcasters became quite wealthy from their governmentally-granted cartel. They continue to rake in big dollars today, even with the emergence of cable, satellite, internet, etc.
    If we get rid of the FCC, it would follow that the spectrum will be open to private ownership again. Would it be auctioned permanently? Would any steps be taken to “level the playing field,” such that the old media companies cannot create a monopoly by purchasing their spectrum with the dollars they made from the public airwaves?
    Also, what effect would such steps have on things like the “must-carry” rules for cable companies?
    These are things just off the top of my head. Put another way, look at the 1996 Telecom Act. That was supposed to be deregulatory. It has been, to some degree, but it has spawned litigation all over the country as companies try to unscramble an egg. The former Baby Bells sue AT&T and vice versa, indpendent companies sue both and vice versa, in fights over the terms of access to these old technologies.
    Granted, elimination of the FCC seems like a “clean” solution at first glance. But I’d want to look at the fine print that would inevitably follow before signing onto it.

  • Karl

    Re: jonny’s post
    Must there be an entity that regulates the spectrum?
    In theory, no. In the early days of radio, there was no FCC, and spectrum disputes were decided the same way other property disputes were: in court.
    In reality, or the Washington DC simulation thereof, the answer may well be yes.

  • Abolishing the FCC on First Amendment grounds is fine by me, but then what about the FEC and McCain-Feingold? The First Amendment also says Congress shall make no law, etc. but McGF gives Congress the power to restrict political speech. It’s for a limited period now but government always expands its power if left unchecked, so the FEC will become the bureaucratic arm of the congressional speech police. Let’s repeal McGF and the FEC, then require all political candidates, committees and advertisers to publish the names of all donors, the amount given and the date.

  • Privacy Watch

    Yes, there does need to be an organization to regulate spectrum. The example that there was no FCC does not prove that there is no need for it. Once, there was no FDA to insure that drugs were not total poison, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need one now. Back when radio started, there were a lot fewer transmitters and there was a lot more relative space on the spectrum.
    The problem is that the FCC no longer regulates the spectrum in the interests of the public, but in the interests of wealth and hypocritical moralists.

  • “…the interests of wealth”? Where does that come from? What interest do the wealthy have in clean TV?
    Remember, we’re not talking about the censorship of ideas, we’re talking t*tt*es. All of this bloviating is over t*tt*es. This whole, long campaign against the FCC is over t*tt*es and the right to say f*ck, sh*t, and g*dd*am in everybody’s face, although posting such things in most forums (including these comments) would at the very least get my post removed, if not result in being banned altogether.
    The *poor* are the ones most interested in keeping TV safe for kids. It is poor families who do not have the benefit of carefully programmed cable stations, of careful constant oversight over their children. It is hard-working parents you are fighting, who come home from work late, hoping that their kids haven’t been watching soft porn on network TV after school. It is these parents you deride for not “changing the channels” when they’re not even there to do it. It’s these working parents, these poor families who will have to throw their TVs out of the house when you get your way in abolishing the FCC, or else resign themselves to the cultural dictates of an upper-middle class, chablis-sipping elite that values art over family. It is poor families that you are crusading against when you crusade against the FCC. Good luck and godspeed!
    You must ignore this fact since it is vitally important to remain smugly superior and morally outraged over the “wealthy prudes” of elitist imagination. But I really wish some of you would stop and consider whose voices should be more important in this debate… a single mom with kids, couples working double shifts at 7-Eleven to get out from under debt, or James “Let the Storms Destroy the Gauche Antienvironmentalist Hicks” Wolcott?
    My suspicion is that Michael Powell knows the answer to that better than many here. In defending the Walmart crowd, he offends you. Deeply.

  • cb

    what’s most baffling about Powell’s actions is that they seem to please nobody. If people aren’t really being offended by trashy TV then he’s not even really helping Bush’s culture war agenda. And why go after Fox, who run the only cable new channel watched in the White House? It’s starting to look not so much like political cronyism but more like Powell just has no idea what he’s doing.
    And to respond to carsonfire, there are many issues in which the media elite aren’t on the same page as workingclass America, but this isn’t one. That mother working double shifts at the 7-11 you mentioned? I can guarantee she doesn’t care one bit about any of this, she’s far, far too busy trying to keep her kids clothed, gas in the car and food on the table.

  • Eileen

    “That mother working double shifts at the 7-11 you mentioned? I can guarantee she doesn’t care one bit about any of this..”
    You can? Based on what? I know all kinds of women who can’t afford cable, fancy chips, much less satellite or internet. They are ABSOLUTELY concerned about what is available on MSM which is appropriate for their children to watch (slim pickins’). From your blog, it appears you’re a young guy. Don’t know who you hang out with. Is that you with the magnum?

  • pianoman

    Somewhere along the line, the FCC was tasked with regulating content across the spectrum. That’s the real problem. The FCC is needed, but strictly for deciding how to divvy up the public airwaves. Otherwise, the guy with the biggest tower wins, and that’s not a good idea.
    If the People still want a Spectrum Nanny, an agency can be created for that purpose. It shouldn’t be the FCC’s job.
    In that sense, abolishing the FCC is a Bad Idea.

  • Assuming all these groups would be united (and that’s a lot to assume), it’s nearly impossible that the constituents of 435 congressman and 100 senators would be that interested in abolishing the FCC. Sadly for me, average people aren’t interested in abolishing entire government departments. Say “reform” and they’ll listen. At best the FCC can be slightly restructured. At the same time remember that the people’s representatives are the ones holding all these hearings on indecency. The FCC is basically following their lead.

  • Eileen

    Greg Piper,
    Right you are! The federal agency I would abolish immediately if not sooner is the IRS. Now THERE’s an agency and body of law that needs desperate, immediate reform. But that is just my own pipedream… I’m all for a nice little national sales tax on goods (property, services?) purchased, period…or a flat tax for individuals and corporations. Make it simple and make it work.
    Reform through communication with one’s representatives and pressures (from whichever direction represents one’s views) upon the Commissioners is the most realistic approach likely to yield results. Congress rarely acts in broad brush fashion in Any area of the law, much less with respect to any entrenched federal agency.
    Anything is Possible, but it is also highly Improbable and therefore a pipedream argument.
    Geez, Jeff, why don’t you go after the IRS? I’d fight and work like hell with you on that one….

  • You’re killing me, carsonfire, please, you’re worried about the poor? Michael Powell is concerned about good, honest, god-fearing Walmart families? Baloney on you and the Walmart families.
    Let’s look at a little REAL AMERICAN WALMART FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT. How about a REAL AMERICAN ENTERTAINER like Toby Keith? Seems he has a top 10 song – right now, playin’ on good, REAL AMERICAN DIXIE CHICKS HATING country radio stations extolling the virtues of traveling to Mexico for debauched weekend of drunken adultery.
    Oh yeah – why aren’t the REAL AMERICAN WALMART FAMILIES bitching to Michael Powell about that? Because their values aren’t any purer than the evil, liberal elites. They just like a different style of smut – country instead of urban. It’s still smut.
    Regulating spectrum is different than regulating spectrum content. Powell is focusing on content. It’s the same political hack thinking as the local guy who goes after adult book stores or girlie magazines in the drug store. A quick way to score cheap points with REAL AMERICANS. This is about a political opportunist who knows some easy PR when he sees it…thekeez

  • Eileen

    “Powell is focusing on content.”
    Yes, Jeff K, the Commission is ‘also’ focusing on content. They are REQUIRED by Federal Law to do so. provides a great overview of their duties (via the media section on the lower right) with respect to OBSCENITY LAW enforcement, which is NOT – I repeat NOT – 1st AMENDMENT PROTECTED SPEECH OR CONDUCT. Then read numerous cases and a whole lot of other statutes to learn how obscenity is defined, the specific mandate REQUIRED of the FCC and Etc.
    Political hack? No. Enforcing the law. If you don’t like the law, go do something about changing it with your representatives. And if you don’t like the Commissioners, go exert some pressure by writing complaints…
    Someone around here mentioned that Powell was in fact appointed by Clinton (although I don’t know if it’s true). Does that change your opinion as to whether he’s a hack or not?

  • Karen
  • Mark