December 3, 2004
A Public Scolding From Michael Powell
What happens when you spend your days getting screamed at? If you’re FCC chair Michael Powell, you write an op-ed in the New York Times, attempting to justify the recent fracas caused by your office. Powell fussily blames “those who make a handsome living by selling saucy fare” for creating most of the trouble (a clear jab at Howard Stern, who abused him on a recent radio call-in show). Powell also reaches right for the heartstrings with the most tired of all censorship arguments: of course he supports the First Amendment, but by God, he’s also a parent.
I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of this, but his conclusion struck a nerve:
“Berating citizens who believe in values and reasonable limits is insulting and polarizing and distracts from the legitimate issues of this policy debate. Critics of the law should instead focus their efforts on changing the law, if that's what they want.”
Oh, I see now. Instead of whining about the law, we should change it!
Does Michael Powell live in Fairyland? Does this man truly not know anything about the organization that he runs?
In one sense, Powell is absolutely right. The FCC “isn’t in the business of censorship”. They’re “in the business” of supporting business. The act that created the FCC also determined that radio would be funded through advertising, eliminating the possibility for educational and socially responsible programming. Since then, the FCC has been “in the business” of consolidating control of the American communications industry into six or eight conglomerates. And the American people have never, ever, had a voice in this process – except for the American people who sit on the boards of Viacom and NewsCorp, or belong to the National Association of Broadcasters. Changing the laws, as Powell so blithely suggests, would require a complete overhaul and revision of seventy years of business-friendly legislation, as well as going head to head with one of the most wealthy, powerful lobbies in this country. You want to talk about "legitimate issues of this policy debate"? Why don't you start there?
Powell can protest all he wants about the FCC not being a watchdog, but what he doesn’t seem to realize is that the organization has backed itself into that corner. Where did these “certain broadcasters” who “trade responsible restraint for torrid sensationalism in the relentless race for ratings” come from? They are a direct result of our government’s policies.
I’m not saying that the FCC is single-handedly responsible for creating all the garbage on television today, but they are certainly responsible for our lack of choices. If our airwaves were instead filled with a diversity of programming from a multitude of sources not dependent on advertising dollars, then Mr. and Mrs. Powell could just change the channel when they fear their children might be exposed to boobies, and stop scolding the rest of us for not wanting to lose the few freedoms we have left.
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