Steve Chapman

You might think a Democratic Congress would be less inclined to brook federal interference with free expression, but dream on. While Republicans like to crack down on "bad" programming, Democrats like to demand "good" programming. When the Univision fine was announced, it won applause from Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. In this regulatory environment, freedom is not a factor: Anything not forbidden is compulsory.

The idea that we need the FCC to assure educational opportunities for children is nonsense on stilts. In the first place, there are plenty of channels, from PBS to the Discovery Channel, that offer nothing but educational programming. If parents don't like what Univision offers, they have plenty of alternatives. In the second place, any parents truly interested in exposing their children to intellectual stimulation are more likely to shut the TV off than turn it on.

Even if more educational programming would be a good thing, what business is that of the government? More G-rated films would be a good thing, too, but we don't force movie studios to produce them. That goes back to the First Amendment, which puts Hollywood beyond the reach of official busybodies. Movie studios make what they choose, and moviegoers decide whether they or their kids will see them: No government required.

The Supreme Court long ago sanctioned regulation of speech on radio and TV on the grounds that broadcast frequencies are scarce and not accessible to all. But with the advent of cable and satellite transmission, which is how nearly 90 percent of Americans get their TV shows, the scarcity argument collapses. The number of potential channels is now unlimited.

Today, most viewers no longer distinguish between cable and broadcast programs. So having different rules for each makes about as much sense as having different regulations for odd- and even-numbered channels. It's high time broadcasters were placed under America's original rule on how the government should regulate free expression: Don't.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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