Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is under assault by the powerful broadcasting industry and their indentured allies, Cong. Jack Fields and FCC Commissioner, James Quello — a Nixon appointee. His sin: he wants to enforce the law — specifically the 1934 Communications Act which contains the imperative that broadcasters meet the “public interest, necessity and convenience.”
Hundt seeks to apply this standard to children’s programming -not the violent, idiotic animated kind — but the educational genre for youngsters. He wants TV stations to air at least three hours per week of such educational programming, reflecting a recent law enacted by Congress to authorize the FCC specifically to do just what the Chairman is trying to do.
Although President Clinton has made three appointments to the five member Commission — Hundt, Susan Ness and Rachelle B. Chong — the chairman is not at all sure he has a majority on several important issues, including children’s programming. This has been Clinton’s way with the federal regulatory agencies because he has no declared consumer protection philosophy.
Although there are plenty of controversial media topics in an industry undergoing massive mergers and new technological options that either could let citizens inside or could end up in new types of monopoly powers for companies, Chairman Hundt is having difficulty being heard or seen.
Two recent large conventions illustrate his plight. At the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, where 100,000 attendees registered, a mere 120 people showed up to hear the industry’s chief regulator. The industry’s message: who cares about what the FCC’s Chairman has to say. He doesn’t control his own Commission, which for years has been a patsy anyway, and the Dole-Gingrich Congressional Machine will make sure that what is left of the FCC’s budget assures pussycat status?
Hundt knows the nation’s communication laws are not being implemented. His recent predecessors have unraveled previous policies under those laws by allowing more concentrated ownership of tv and radio stations, by jettisoning the requirement that these stations ascertain the news needs of their community and by ending the fairness doctrine.
To solicit public comment and keep citizens informed, Hundt and the FCC have started a web page on the Internet. He hopes that more people will learn about its presence and access the system. To date, few media are publicizing this service.
While the Congress prepares to send a telecommunications monopolization bill to Clinton, which Vice President Albert Gore has said will be vetoed, the industry moguls are speeding ahead to present the country with a fait accompli.
The companies, such as the Baby Bells, that operate the conduit now want also to decide the content by getting into the programming business. The Gingrich/Dole bill would allow these companies to buy up cable companies and other firms to achieve this goal. It would not prohibit any one company from owning the newspaper, radio and television stations in your community. One company would be allowed to buy up every FM and AM radio station in the country.
Moreover, TV and radio stations lease your public property -the public airwaves — from the FCC free. They pay you the landlord no rent and decide who says what 24 hours a day. Now the industry is demanding to get free more broadcast TV spectrum.
In the meantime, progressive talk show host, Jim Hightower is cancelled by ABC/Disney while right wing GOP strategist William Bristol is hired as a political consultant by ABC/Disney. The giant cable operator, TCI, has imposed such huge rate hikes on the citizen-oriented 90’s channel that it is going off the air.
Well, if you want to send the FCC your views on the current programming and behavior of media moguldom, the WEB page address is http://www.fcc.gov/.