Proposed FCC Rule a disguised 'Fairness Doctrine'

The DC Examiner has a troubling editorial today on a new rule being proposed by Bush's FCC that would represent a threat to the unfettered marketplace of ideas on talk radio while in practice, giving power to anti-free speech elements to dictate what can be broadcast.

As free speech advocates gear up to oppose revival of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” another Orwellian-named government effort to dictate the content of radio and TV news and opinion has been hatched by the Bush administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So far, there’s been much less focus on the “localism rule” – even though it would have a similar chilling effect on First Amendment rights.

Under the FCC’s proposed regulations, owners of radio and TV stations would become subject to permanent advisory boards whose members – aka “community organizers” - would be chosen according to politically correct multi-cultural nostrums requiring representation of all “stakeholders.” These boards would be empowered by the FCC to decide if stations were airing a “sufficient amount of community-responsive programming”- with neither “sufficient” nor “responsive” defined. A negative advisory board finding could mean loss of a station owner’s broadcasting license.

The proposed regulations would also require broadcasters to maintain a 24/7 physical presence at broadcasting facilities, limit their use of celebrity “voice tracking” and network programming, require them to fund journalism schools, and give their music playlists to the FCC. Whatever else might be the FCC’s intention with this proposal, it is clear its application would vastly increase the cost of operating a station, while reducing the economic and editorial freedom of the owner. To what end? Experts warn that such rules will kill talk radio – one of the few mass media that favors conservatives. But more is at stake here than protecting the right of 12 million Americans to continue tuning in to Rush Limbaugh on the radio.

Indeed, the chances are very good that these "stakeholders" who would oversee the political content on radio stations could fairly easily call into question a broadcaster's commitment to a “sufficient amount of community-responsive programming" by urging some of their allies to complain to Big Brother at the FCC. It is likely that some stations would drop talk radio altogether rather than risk the hassle of dealing with an FCC challenge to their programming content.

In the end, the effect would be exactly the same as the Fairness Doctrine; conservative talk radio would end up subsidizing liberal programming due to the left's inability to develop mass market appeal in the medium.

The FCC can read the election returns as well as anybody. No doubt some of those folks want to keep their jobs after Obama takes office. Is this rule an effort to pander to the new administration? If so, it doesn't bode well for the future of free speech under Obama.