Is The Media Biased Against The FCC, Too?


There’s a lot of negative press about the President of the United States.

In the view of Roslyn Layton, a Visiting Fellow at AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy, many tech media conform to this trend. Why? In her view, recent news stories on the FCC have been characterized by a focus on drama over analysis.

By Roslyn Layton

A new report published by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy concludes that the first hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been marked by an unprecedented level of negative stories and an overwhelming focus on the president to the exclusion of other, substantive news.

Specifically, the President was the subject of 41% of all stories, which is three times more than any president’s coverage ever. The study is based on print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post; the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC; and three European news outlets, which are the United Kingdom’s Financial Times and the BBC, and Germany’s ARD.

The author of the report, political scientist Thomas E. Patterson, eschews the conventional wisdom that the mainstream media leans left or “liberal.” Instead, he claims that the media leans “negative,” a trend he traces to the Vietnam War. His study demonstrates generally negative coverage for former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and positive coverage for Barack Obama but notes that President Trump has experienced a record breaking four-to-one ratio of negative coverage to positive coverage overall. Even the European public broadcasters, which are presumed to offer neutral and objective coverage, reported three-to-one negative on the president. Today’s stories tend to focus on the “Washington power game — who’s up and who’s down, who’s getting the better of whom —” rather than the effects of policy, he writes. To win credibility, Patterson says journalists need to make real stories again and to give the president credit when it is due.

Many tech media conform to this trend, as recent news stories on the FCC have been characterized by a focus on drama over analysis. In contrast to negative media reporting, the actual record of FCC proceedings in the first hundred days exhibits an agency aligned with its mission and vitally engaged with actions aimed at delivering competition and consumer protection. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently visited the American Enterprise Institute to review the agency’s accomplishments, noting a record 50 actions in the first 100 days of his chairmanship and touting at least five actions that were unanimously passed.

These included the following achievements:

Closing the digital divide: An order was unanimously passed to spend $4.53 billion over ten years to bring 4G LTE service to rural Americans through a competitive reverse auction. Another bipartisan action called for spending $2 billion for wired broadband through competitive bidding, in addition to proceedings to speed new wireline infrastructure (from copper to fiber) and to facilitate deployment of small cells that will power the 5G wireless networks of the future. The FCC also created the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, and its working groups have already started on problem-solving for broadband deployment.

Modernizing the Commission’s rules and eliminating unnecessary regulatory burdens: The FCC has taken action to reduce $800 million a year in paperwork burdens imposed on regulated companies, relieve small broadband providers of costly and needless Open Internet Order reporting requirements, end the business data services proceedings that had been open for 12 years, streamline accounting rules that forced providers to maintain two sets of books, and ease reporting burdens for volunteer board members of noncommercial broadcasters.

Promoting innovation: The FCC launched a new website to make it easier to register new experiments in technologies and services; authorized the first-ever LTE-unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz band; allowed television broadcasters to use the next-generation television standard on a voluntary, market-driven basis; and closed its investigation into free-data offerings as no consumer harm was found.

Protecting consumers and public safety: The FCC approved a proposed rule that gave telephony providers a safe harbor to block robocalls (i.e. block spoofed Caller ID), fined a company $1 million for impersonating customers’ long-distance providers and illegally switching their long-distance carriers; approved new rules to improve the quality of video relay services for deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech-disabled individuals; adopted reforms to enable correctional facilities to detect and block the use of contraband phones; helped law enforcement with bomb threats at houses of worship; and launched the Blue Alerts program to inform the public of safety threats and law enforcement matters.

Enhancing transparency: Lastly, it has also made all proposals public three weeks before the commission votes and announced the commitment to create an Office of Economics and Data to bring economic analysis back to the agency’s policy work.

In addition, let’s not forget the conclusion of the world’s first ever incentive auction for spectrum and the process to restore internet freedom through the proven model of light touch regulation that existed from 1996 to 2015.

It is not surprising that during the period in which major news outlets have checked out of their responsibilities to discuss policy, new organizations have stepped up to fill the gap — not just a range of politically oriented blogs and trade media, but think tanks and academics as well.

Roslyn Layton is a visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. This column was originally written for the AEI’s TechPolicyDaily.

RBR + TVBR RELATED READ: Why You Should Know Who Roslyn Layton Is

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