Jesse Walker has a terrific feature story looking “Beyond the Fairness Doctrine” in this month’s issue of Reason magazine. I highly recommend it. It’s an in-depth exploration of what an Obama Administration means for the future of tech and media policy. Walker rightly opens the piece by noting that “The fairness doctrine is still dead, and it probably will stay dead even if Barack Obama becomes president.” The danger, however, is that an Obama FCC will still pursue a variety of onerous regulatory objectives that could do a great deal of damage to markets and free speech.
Walker touches upon the various issues that will likely be a priority for an Obama Administration and the Left-leaning media reformistas like Free Press, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge, and New America Foundation. Those policy issues include: net neutrality, “localism” mandates and increased “community oversight” regulations, media ownership rules, minority ownership requirements, increased merger meddling, spectrum policy, and other new “public interest” obligations.
Of course, as Walker also correctly points out, it is difficult to see how things could get much worse than they have been under Bush Administration’s FCC and the leadership of Chairman Kevin Martin. Walker was kind enough to quote my thoughts on this point: “Martin is the most regulatory Republican FCC Chairman in decades,” I told him. “He wants to control speech and will use whatever tools he has to get there.”
I stand by those words, but I am also aware that things could get worse — much worse — under a Democratic FCC influenced by radical Leftist activists like Free Press. Indeed, in our new book A Manifesto for Media Freedom, Brian Anderson and I inventory the many looming threats to media and technology freedom that exist today and show how most of them arise from the Left. As Walker notes in his article, however, it is unlikely that a re-empowered Democratic FCC would come right out of the gates with the same sort of command-and-control approaches they’ve employed in the past. And we’ll still have to worry about some right-of-center lawmakers and regulatory joining some of these misguided campaigns. “The real danger,” Walker concludes in his piece, “is more subtle and more mundane. It’s a bipartisan bureaucracy slowly, steadily increasing its power.” Make sure to read Jesse’s entire piece. Great stuff.