When Mr. Genachowski appears before the Senate
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for his confirmation
hearing June 16, 2009
Some people seeking radical changes
to the way the radio industry is regulated have deemed the industry
and the regulatory regime "broken," and in need of their drastic
prescriptions to repair it. Would you say that the radio industry is
If he says "No":
Since you say it's not broken, you would agree that there is no need for the sort of radical, political content-affecting enforcement of "localism" or "media diversity" regulations or a reimposition of the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine for which these people have called, correct?
Regarding "Media Diversity":
How far are you going to go in
enforcing your interpretation of "media diversity" regulations? Will
you force existing license holders to give up their stations so as
to make them available for new, minority owners? Will you issue
extra, "pending" licenses to minority interests - and then
intentionally refuse license renewal of non-minority owners to make
way for the waiting minority interests?
Any of these scenarios would
obviously dramatically affect on-air political content, and
therefore be a direct assault on the First Amendment free speech
rights of these broadcasters, both the on-air talent and the station
owners. How do you intend to enforce your interpretation of "media
diversity" regulations without violating these broadcasters' First
Amendment right of political free speech?
Regarding the duration of FCC
broadcast licenses. The current radio license term is eight years.
Groups like the Center for American Progress have called for that
period to be reduced to just three - in the interest of opening up
the ownership pool and increasing the number of station owners. Of
special concern to them in their desire to broaden the ownership
base is minorities seeking to own stations.
But often there is a tremendous
capital investment required to acquire a station and get it off the
ground. Shortening the license period would severely limit the
ability of investors to recover their investment - let alone turn a
profit. Thus, shortening the license period would be a terrible
assault on the business viability of the radio industry.
And this would be particularly
harmful to minority owners, the group these term-shortening
proponents purport to help. Several minority interest group
representatives stated during the May 7 FCC Media Diversity hearing
that they have a particularly difficult time raising the capital
necessary to get into the radio business. Shortening the license
term would therefore potentially be even more damaging to them.
With all of this in mind, do you
favor shortening the license period for radio broadcasters? And if
so, how can you rationalize it given the industry ramifications?
Do you wish to reduce the number of
local and national stations any one ownership group may have? If so,
how do you plan to implement and enforce these limitations without
it unconstitutionally affecting on-air political content?
Regarding the mis-named "Fairness" Doctrine:
The Federal Communications Commission
rescinded in 1987 the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine, deeming it an
unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment's guarantee of
the freedom of speech.
But in just the last couple of years,
at least seventeen members of Congress have expressed their desire
to see this form of government censorship reimposed.
Last June, a spokesman for
then-candidate Barack Obama stated publicly that President Obama
views the mis-named "Fairness" Doctrine as a "distraction" and does
not want to see it reinstated. But on February 15, President Obama's
advisor David Axelrod was asked by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday
"Will you rule out reimposing the Fairness Doctrine?"
To which Mr. Axelrod responded "I'm
going to leave that issue to Julius Genachowski, our new head of the
FCC, to, and the President, to discuss. So I don't have an answer
for you now."
Do you, Mr. Genachowski, have an
answer for us now? Have you discussed the so-called "Fairness"
Doctrine with the President? Will you reimpose it? Where do you
stand on this form of outright regulatory censorship?
Regarding the FCC regulation known as
"localism." The concept of the "localism" regulation is in and of
itself not a bad thing. There is, however, a troubling aspect of its
enforcement about which I would like to ask you now - that being the
proposed "local content boards."
These are panels ostensibly made-up
of citizens in a particular broadcast area who monitor their local
stations so as to ensure they are meeting the community's standards.
However, every station in America
already faces the daily scrutiny of two local content boards - its
listeners and its advertisers. If a station fails to meet the
standards of their local community members - the listeners - they
will have no advertisers, which would very quickly mean they would
no longer be broadcasting.
In short, if they fail to meet the
needs of the local listening audience, they will lose their
financial ability to broadcast well before it comes time for their
FCC license renewal.
This is how the free market works as
applied to radio. The free market has led to talk radio being
populated largely by conservative and Christian hosts. In community
after community, local listeners have made their content decisions -
liberal talk radio simply hasn't garnered the numbers of listeners
that conservative talk has.
This isn't the result of a vast
right-wing broadcast conspiracy. It is the result of tens of
millions of Americans every day deciding for themselves to whom they
want to listen.
Conservative talk has not always and
forever dominated the airwaves. Just twenty-two years ago, the radio
industry conventional wisdom was that local audiences would not
listen to non-local hosts. There was barely any such thing in 1987
as syndicated radio - let alone conservative-dominated syndicated
But an unknown host by the name of
Rush Limbaugh had an idea that there was a syndicated market for his
product - and risked his career to prove it. And he was right.
Limbaugh, and his conservative colleagues, built the syndicated talk
radio industry. Slowly, gradually, through the free market process
of garnering a progressively larger audience share. Again, not a
conspiracy - a free market success story.
Their audiences and their advertisers
are their "content boards" - and they are obviously meeting their
Now to the proposed extra-market
regulatory FCC "local content boards." These boards would seem to me
to be superfluous and, unfortunately, ripe for abuse. They could
quickly become populated by members of ideological grievance groups
- like ACORN, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others.
These activist gatherings - posing under the "public interest" guise
of "local content boards" - would harangue conservative and
Christian talk stations and file multiple "complaints" against them
with the FCC claiming they aren't meeting the "local needs of the
No matter that their consistently
high ratings clearly indicate otherwise. These complaints would be
based purely on ideology - liberals seeking to silence popular
conservative and Christian talk hosts via FCC regulation.
My questions to you are: Do you
desire to see these proposed "local content boards" become a
reality? If so, what review process will you have in place for their
complaints to ensure that they are not abused in the manner I just
described? Will you promise here and now to stand against ANY such
efforts by anyone seeking to use these "local content boards" for
partisan political purposes?