The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold confirmation hearings on June 16 for Julius Genachowski, President Obama's nominee to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is not a controversial figure, in part because he seems like a blank slate. His positions on many regulatory issues are yet to be revealed. But passionate advocates will want answers dragged out of him.
The Obama team is placing its emphasis on the wishes of its liberal base, like expanding access to the Internet and broadband service. But conservatives want senators to press on the fervent desire of Obama's Democratic supporters for a reimposed Fairness Doctrine (or, as conservatives are warning, a "Censorship Doctrine"). The White House has suggested the fury is overblown. They remind us that the president has come out against the Fairness Doctrine. But there are many evolving ways to try and intimidate radio stations to alter their content, including initiatives for diversity in broadcast ownership.
Last year, the Obama campaign's Technology page, which reflected Genachowski's role as a technology adviser to the campaign, offered nebulous verbiage that could be interpreted with ominous overtones. "As president, Obama will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum."
This could be empty campaign blather. Or it could signal a real effort to use "diversity" as a political and legal weapon to crack up the nationally syndicated domains of conservative radio stars.
But what about broadcast indecency? In George W. Bush's second term, FCC chairman Kevin Martin ushered in the most energetic regime of indecency fines (and resulting litigation) in the history of the agency. And still over 1.2 million complaints remain unresolved. That's 1,200,000 times the FCC has been contacted -- and nothing. Will the new FCC chairman be more responsible?
A read of that Obama campaign page is not encouraging: "Obama values our First Amendment freedoms and our right to artistic expression and does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns. An Obama administration will give parents the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment."