The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Kerry - and Mrs Kerry - on the networks

Great little piece yesterday in the Madison Capital-Times - erstwhile doughty warrior against Joseph McCarthy - with one of the zillion Kerry interviews that are about.

The lede (buried in graf 3) is that, unlike his opponent, Kerry is an avid newspaper reader. Wow! Cap Times really gone downhill recently, eh?

The real object of the exercise was to let Kerry have a pop at the networks for dissing his Boston circus. Enjoy the passive voice [1] in this:
When it was mentioned that many Americans had expressed disappointment with the decision of the nation's broadcast television networks to air only three hours of Democratic convention coverage, Kerry said:

"I share the disappointment. We're a democracy, and the strength of our democracy is in the ability of citizens to be informed. If the major media are unwilling to inform - and simply because there is not a clash or a conflict or something doesn't mean it (a convention) is not informative - I personally think it's a derogation of their responsibility" that goes with using the broadcast airwaves.

Now, it's strange but true that, in the home of capitalism, the broadcasting wave-bands worth (I suspect) a billion or more dollars a year are provided for free [2]. Why is that? Isn't it a breach of the government's fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the taxpayer?

Well, of course, in the past, there was such a thing as the fairness doctrine - and one could argue - just - that the airwave giveaway was a legitimate subsidy to support a (relatively) impartial medium for the discussion of public issues that would otherwise not exist.

Kerry's line to the networks might be: you had your chance to show (in the Convention coverage) a willingness to sacrifice immediate profit for public responsibility, and you blew it. So any sort of quid pro quo on free bandwidth is clearly off the table. If the government planned to dispose of millions of acres of public lands, and decided to give them away for nothing, the writs would be flying like confetti: the same should be true with the broadcasting spectrum.

Of course, that's 100% pure druther: even though the industry made a poor fist of holding off Congressional opposition to the FCC's 2003 rules on media concentration, I can't see their fight against bandwidth charging being quite so lack-lustre. And then there would be the special breaks needed for NPR and other non-profits.

Besides, I suspect that the broadcasters are constitutionally protected from having their licences removed or made subject to additional conditions without the payment of full compensation. I did say druther, didn't I?

Now, reading the first part of the piece, you'd have thought it was Kerry fielding questions solo. However,
Asked if he thought the decision of the networks to downplay the coverage of the convention sent a signal to Americans not to take what happened in Boston seriously, Kerry said, "I don't know if it's that message or not. I think most Americans are smart enough to understand."

But Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was seated next to her husband, interrupted him and said, "That is the message, I think. I agree that it hurts."

Will they be doing White House press conferences together, I wonder?

  1. Did the bylined John Nichols not do the interview? Is that the reason for the mandarin passive?

  2. Spectrum for wireless telecommunication - cellphones and like - is indeed auctioned off. But not spectrum for broadcasting.

    In fact, so far as I can see, from a cursory search, not only does a broadcaster not pay more than filing fees for an original license issued by the FCC, once he has the licence, he is presumtively entitled, save for misfeasance shown on his part, to have it renewed until the Last Trump.

    And, should he choose, to sell the licence to someone else (subject to FCC approval) for as much as he can get (with no share of his profit going to the US taxpayer).

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