At first glance, it appears that President Trump wants to misuse the powers of the FCC to silence those who may disagree with him. And as we all know; except for situations such as a genuine “clear and present danger;” not only does no part of the US government have any such power, but the US Government is in fact prohibited from any such action.
But to understand what is actually happening, clear distinctions must be made. Free speech and the 1st Amendment refer to content. “Congress shall make no law” includes indirect law such as FCC regulations; but this refers to speech; i.e.; content, and not necessarily the means by which said speech is provided.
“Freedom of the press” includes the term “press” and thus refers to printed matter. That old one about: “Never get into a controversy with a man who buys ink by the barrel;” relates to this. Anyone can decide to start a newspaper, a magazine or a website; and the market will determine success or failure. No license is required for this, and neither should one ever be.
But radio transmissions are another matter. There is a limited amount of frequency spectrum available; and despite the increase in usability because of digital modes, it nevertheless remains limited. Because of this, utilizing the RF spectrum generally requires some type of license, and thus by definition is not a right. Radio transmission is generally referred to as “privilege” and never a “right.” And as evidenced by the ability of the FCC to auction newly usable radio spectrum, there are more entities wanting to utilize frequencies than are frequencies available. Are the 1st Amendment rights of all except the winning bidder being infringed because of this?
Licenses are granted to broadcast based upon the answer to one key question: “Are they operating in the public interest?” None has any “right” to any frequency usage, any claims of “grandfathering” notwithstanding. Thus this requirement presupposes some type of entity to determine whether or not any licensee is operating in the public interest; and by statute, this entity is the FCC.
This is in fact a “slippery slope;” but so is granting carte-blanche to any broadcast entity with respect to largely acting in any manner they please—as has been the case for decades. It must be determined which is more dangerous.
There is also a major difference between investigating the actions of a broadcaster, and taking any action against this same broadcaster. In order to insure the provision of the greatest good, or “promote the general (not individual) welfare;” all broadcasters should be routinely monitored—not just when a “wardrobe malfunction” occurs.
If and when any broadcaster on an ongoing basis fails to reasonably get it right, this is not in the “public interest;” and actions should be undertaken to remedy the problem. From the effect perspective, it matters little whether it is incompetence or bias that results in false information being provided to the public. “Informed consent” and sound decisions are simply not possible when one is unknowingly utilizing falsehood, believing it is truth.
The privilege of utilizing the radio spectrum often can give one great authority, and with that comes great responsibility. When a broadcast network in-toto averages 90% negative stories about one political candidate; or promulgates one false story after another against one individual; this is not operation in the public interest, but rather the use of these privileges as a political weapon; and thus should never be permitted.
This has nothing to do with the governmental suppression of any viewpoint, as there are many other unlicensed means by which this can be done. In addition, it is not that any particular discussion is at issue, as all sides should be heard on all networks. It is a matter of integrity, and balance in-toto. If a broadcast network refuses to act in the public interest by exercising journalistic integrity, and providing overall reasonably balanced programming; there exists a mechanism by which the privilege to do so could be revoked, and granted to someone else who will. This is not the government suppressing free speech, but rather ensuring that those who agreed to do something; are in fact doing what they agreed to do. © 2017 QPG, LLC —feel free to distribute this with attribution. https://meekraker.com/publications/