Taking Care of Business

The challenges facing broadcasting as an industry have been told so often there’s no need to recite them all here. Unfortunately, broadcasters’ understandable focus on business issues is being offered up by some as an excuse for doing little to protect the First Amendment, even in matters directly related to broadcasting, like FCC v. Fox Television Stations.

There’s no doubting the industry’s need for communications policies–in areas like ownership, public interest obligations, and carriage– that are broadcaster friendly. But that is emphatically not a good reason for broadcasters to diminish the fervor with which they promote their own, and everyone’s, freedom of speech.

Just the opposite. As policymakers consider laws and regulations governing things commercial and technological, it is all the more important that broadcasters rigorously defend constitutional principles, lest they too be swept up in the general mayhem.

Going forward, broadcasters are going to be much more in the content business than the signal distribution business. And as the Internet, like cable and satellite before it, takes on more content distribution (including broadcast content) it is going to be very important for broadcasters to be free to incorporate programming that they think best.

This is exactly what is at stake in the Supreme Court’s review of the FCC’s crackdown on indecent speech.  The FCC is looking to impose content controls on broadcasters that they would not, and cannot, impose on the Internet. This, despite the fact that actual pornography, as distinguished from “fleeting expletives,” is ubiquitous on the Net.

Broadcasting faces a commercial and technological future with which it may, or may not, be able to adapt. But there is no scenario under which broadcasting survives if its content is controlled by government, or dictated by special interest groups masquerading as “media reformers.”