Monday, August 30, 2004

Media coverage of conventions

A Democrat commissioner on the FCC criticizes the non-coverage of conventions by the media in a New York Times Op-Ed piece. Since the public owns the airwaves, broadcasters are supposed to broadcast in the public interest. "During this campaign season broadcasters will receive nearly $1.5 billion from political advertising." He goes on to criticize the F.C.C. for not establishing duties and then takes a swipe at media ownership rules attempted by the F.C.C.

The problem is that when Democrats were in the White House, they were even less reluctant to interfere with broadcasters. When they controlled Congress, they participated in a wholesale giveaway of broadcast spectrum, ostensibly for HDTV, that will have implications for decades.

I am unconvinced of the need for "public service" on the part of broadcasters. It smacks of the European control of broadcasting that is so politicized that control of the media becomes a major incentive for political domination. How do you realistically grade broadcasters on "public service?" Coverage of a political convention or free time for candidates? Do you mandate public service or hope broadcasters will abide by some sense of public duty? If so, broadcasters have cheated on the agreement for decades. Their refusal to play fair has been a boon for free speech as it has resulted in cable, CPAN, the Internet, satellite broadcasting, and radio. Sounds like public service to me.

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