Former FCC Commissioner Rips FCC's 'Future Of Media' Inquiry
May 21, 2010 at 4:29 AM (PT)
An article by former FCC Commissioner GLEN O. ROBINSON for the FREE STATE FOUNDATION think tank takes aim at the FCC's "Future of Media" proceeding, asking why the FCC has chosen to ask 41 questions about media's future, many of which are outside the Commission's jurisdiction.
"It is hard to know how to describe this undertaking," wrote ROBINSON, an FCC Commissioner in 1974-76 and a Professor of Law Emeritus at the UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. "It is not a rulemaking proceeding; no rules are proposed. It is not even denominated an 'inquiry,' which the Commission sometimes initiates as a kind of warm-up exercise looking towards a possible future rulemaking proceeding. The Commission announces that this new 'project' will produce a report, but a report to whom and to what purpose is not very clear. The scope of the project is, to say the least, broad. The Commission’s public notice announcing the endeavor lists some 41 questions seeking information about, well, information (call it 'meta-information'). The questions cover a wide swath, but in case it is not wide enough, the FCC concludes by asking question 42: 'what questions have we failed to ask that we should?' My answer to that last question is: 'Why are you asking all these questions?'"
ROBINSON noted that some of the questions, like those about localism, are already being addressed by other proceedings, while others "have no link to the agency’s regulatory responsibilities," like the Commission's consideration of plans to "save" print newspapers. He also asked why the Commission is concerned with managing new media when the Internet is not bound by scarcity, and why the FCC needs to get involved in what it calls an "information gap between what the public needs and what it is receiving" in local information when there is no evidence that the gap is not being filled by other stations or other media.
"Americans today have access to more sources of information by orders of magnitude than they did a scant decade ago, thanks to the availability of multi-channel cable and satellite, the Internet and the literally countless content providers that feed these delivery systems," concluded ROBINSON. "The FCC appears to believe nevertheless that it is not the right kind of information. The people just aren’t getting enough of the right stuff in their information diet — stuff like local news and entertainment, educational programs, and not least 'accountability journalism' programs that keep government agents in line (including the FCC?). If that is true, it is probably because the people don’t want it, but what people want isn’t the FCC’s concern; the production function it prefers is one determined not by what they want but what they need. A number of years ago one wag coined the perfect phrase for this needful thing: 'broccoli television.' With apologies to the ghost of MARIE ANTOINETTE, if the people want cake, 'let them eat broccoli.'"