FURCHTGOTT-ROTH SEEKS TO CLARIFY AND SEPARATE BIG
GOVERNMENT'S INTEREST FROM THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN THE
DEBATE OVER THE DEBATES
While Big Government is Interested in Limiting Viewing Choice to the Presidential Debates, the Public Interest is Served by Diverse Viewing Choices.
Some in Washington believe that diversity of programming is good except when politicians debate. The suggestion that all broadcasters must provide live television coverage of presidential debates is equivalent to the suggestion that all Americans must have no choice of alternative television programming during the debates. Millions of Americans chose, for example, to watch baseball on NBC or entertainment programming on Fox or on countless cable networks rather than watch the presidential debate. Other Americans simply chose not to watch television at all. This is, of course, their choice to make, and it is the concomitant right of broadcasters to meet those market choices. It is not the responsibility of the FCC to compel Americans to watch television, nor should it be our responsibility to limit their programming choices to the debates when tens of millions would prefer to watch any number of other legitimate programs.
While Big Government May Be Interested in Lobbying for New Legislative Obligations on Broadcasters, the Public Interest is in Having the FCC Implement the Law as Written.
Some FCC officials have recently called on Congress to change the law governing the transition to digital television. The American people hired the Commission to implement and enforce the law as written, not to lobby Congress to have it changed. What confidence can the American public have in a law if those responsible for enforcing the law publicly complain that Congress erred in writing it? Or if those charged with implementing the law attempt to use the government pulpit to coerce parties to follow the law they believe Congress should have written? Congress has no shortage of expert information from competing interest groups, and that information is all the more compelling when the FCC is implementing the law as written.
While Big Government May See the Digital Television Transition as an Opportunity to Extract New Concessions from Broadcasters, the Public Interest Supports Tailoring Existing Public Interest Obligations to the Reality of the Current Multitude of Voices in the Marketplace.
Decades ago, in the 1940s and 50s, when broadcasters were literally the only show in town, the FCC believed it could address any societal ill by placing new public interest obligations on the broadcast industry. The legitimate basis for such regulation, if it ever existed, has long since evaporated. Today, the public receives print, audio, and video information from a variety of sources. Tomorrow, the public will have even more choices. Public interest obligations that apply to one industry alone will do little more than divert audiences to other media, and simultaneously drive business interests away from that media. Calls for additional public interest obligations are based on a 20th century view of regulation by micro-management, more appropriate for a museum of well-intentioned-but-failed ideas than for a modern regulatory authority.
If you have any questions regarding this release, or Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth's views, please contact Bryan Tramont at 202-418-2006 or BTramont@FCC.gov.