Amid their other problems, broadcasters now have a new one: the FCC’s recently appointed Scholar in Residence, Stuart Benjamin, a law school professor at Duke University. According to an FCC press release, Benjamin will work on “spectrum reform,” among other issues. The problem that broadcasters have is with some articles written by Professor Benjamin, earlier this year, on that very subject.
One such, “Roasting the Pig To Burn Down the House,” seeks to answer the question being asked by all fair-minded people: “Should we welcome new regulations on broadcasters that will make broadcasting unprofitable?” And the answer, according to Benjamin, is “yes.” Or, as he puts it: “Some regulations that would be undesirable standing on their own will be desirable once we factor in the degree to which they will hasten the demise of over-the-air broadcasting.”
In the same piece Professor Benjamin happily acknowledges, in passing, something that broadcasters have argued – namely that some new administrative regulations, like the so-called advisory boards, “could prove fairly costly.”
A few months later, whilst opining on the Volokh Conspiracy blog site, Benjamin gleefully commented on another rueful development, a Supreme Court decision on indecency regulations (FCC v. Fox) that, as he puts it, “makes life worse for local stations” that can’t afford tape delay systems. As with the added expense of advisory boards, Benjamin sees this too as a good thing. “Local television broadcasters,” he says, ”have a new disincentive to airing live local events – and viewers have less reason to watch local broadcasters.”
Never mind for a minute that Benjamin’s comments are informed by what he sees as the inevitable collapse of broadcasting (he gives it only about 20 years to live, even without a nudge), and that he sincerely believes that broadcast TV is not the highest and best use of the spectrum. The remarkable thing is why the FCC would bring aboard, and give this particular portfolio to, someone with Benjamin’s baggage?
It would be funny if it were a joke. But as one long-time broadcasting executive put it, it raises real questions about the kind of personnel vetting that’s going on at the FCC. If views like those that Benjamin has published aren’t enough to disqualify him from appointment to the position he’s just been given, what would it take? A manual on how to poison station managers?
The dust has barely settled on the government’s years-long campaign to engineer TV’s digital conversion – a conversion that many broadcasters think holds great promise for their industry – and along comes this character, as out of some film noir production, whose ghoulish fantasy is to put broadcasters out of the broadcasting business.
Not to worry, though. Once broadcasting has been polished off, the FCC can focus all its energy on regulating the Internet.