Activist Groups Hope for FCC Change

By Prato, Lou | Washington Journalism Review, January-February 1993 | Go to article overview

Activist Groups Hope for FCC Change


Prato, Lou, Washington Journalism Review


No constituency is more elated about a Clinton presidency than the public interest groups that monitor the television industry. These organizations, shunned by the Reagan and Bush administrations, argue that their lack of influence during the last decade has hurt consumers and opened the way for deregulation policies that have thrown thousands of broadcast journalists out of work. With the Democrats controlling the White House and Congress, many of the activists foresee dramatic changes.

"These are critical times to determine policy for telecommunications," says Jeff Chester, co-director of the Center for Media Education. "Everything is in play, not just broadcasting and cable. Telephone companies want into the competition and newspapers and computer companies have a stake, too. What's significant is that after 12 years, the public interest perspective will be part of the mix."

Chester and others believe the rights of the public have been undermined by the White House and particularly by its administrative surrogate, the Federal Communications Commission. They say it was not in the public interest for the FCC to eliminate broadcasting's Fairness Doctrine in 1987 nor to permit rampant station selling in the mid-1980s. They're also concerned about what they see as the FCC's indifference to the concentration of media power and the content of children's programming.

"While it has generally been without malice," says Andrew Jay Schwartzman, executive director of the Media Access Project, "it is most unfortunate that the FCC has substituted marketplace regulation for traditional regulation. This has left unserved those who are demographically unattractive to advertisers, such as the young, the old, the poor and those with a language barrier."

Schwartzman, an attorney who frequently litigates communications cases, is close to the leadership of the Clinton campaign. Candidate Clinton did not advocate an immediate return to regulation of the communications industry. But he told Broadcasting magazine last October he supports "healthy competition" with "all view-points ... given an opportunity to be expressed and considered" and "government regulation only as a last resort to protect the vital interests of the public." Clinton cited as an example the new cable re-regulation bill that Congress passed last fall over President Bush's veto.

Clinton's communications philosophy has heartened public interest advocates, particularly those yearning for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. …

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