As featured Media Information Bureau columnist Ken Benner looks back at 2018 and the regulatory atmosphere for media companies, he turns his full attention to the FCC, and its Chairman, Ajit Pai.
In Benner’s view, Pai — a champion of “modernization” of media regulation — is empowered to reverse a four-decade decline of broadcasting primarily due to hefty financial penalties handed down to licensees.
A Tribute To FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
By Ken Benner
Even the most naive individuals who see what Washington has done for media over the years have come to realize the massive fines, fees, forfeitures and legal expenses have adversely affected the quality of broadcasting over the past forty years — and most notably in the past ten years.
Hundreds of licensees have simply pulled the plug and walked away from their stations.
If ever in the history of the Commission there was a glimmer of hope to reverse this demise, it is clearly in the hands of Mr. Pai, who has repeatedly indicated his concern for the transparency of many questionable, costly policies from the archives of the FCC.
It was about a year ago that President Trump tweeted the following:
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to (the) public!
I use that simple example, among dozens, to illustrate the radicalism involved with what the FCC is faced with daily. This gives us a clear picture of how we can realize the backbone of Mr. Pai. His response to the President:
The FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.
Yet, there are members of Congress who have suggested the Commission rebuild or reconfigure its comment system “to institute appropriate (read that: inadequate) safeguards against abusive conduct.”
Backing this perception is this quote from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR): “The (FCC) system of public comment is completely broken.”
Indeed, the Commission is grossly over-plagued with its comment solicitation efforts, as implied by Mr. Pai, stating it had received 7.5 million identical comments from 50,000 individuals whose addresses didn’t appear to exist.
The Commission has long encouraged members of the public to share their concerns, complaints, observations of questionable conduct, etc., as provided in the station’s required Public File Folder titled “The Public and Broadcasting,” which is also available from the FCC website.
This booklet has provided the means for many listeners and viewers to retaliate, unhappy with having their criminal activity, questionable conduct, etc., exposed in newscasts; disgruntled employees bent on discrediting their former employer; or individuals with a grudge as illustrated in those 7.5 million identical comments referenced earlier.
Mr. Pai’s dedication to the Creed of the Commission, “To serve the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity,” has long been illustrated by his statement to the Cato Institute Policy Perspective in late 2017:
… there are plenty of overly burdensome regulations out there that are holding back U.S. entrepreneurship and ingenuity. But, if people call them out and fight back, change is possible … and that’s why we look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to reduce unnecessary regulation and unleash more economic opportunity for the American people.
For such dedication that has been well illustrated in the short time Mr. Pai has served as FCC Chairman, a highly commendation is deserved.
Well, done, Mr. Pai. Here’s to a strong 2019 and efforts truly designed to bring renewed riches and continued empowerment to the U.S. broadcasting industry.
Ken Benner is an independent Alternative FCC Compliance Certification Inspector and a research analyst for the Coalition for Transparency, Clarification and Simplification of Regulations pertaining to American Broadcasting. Benner has more than 55 years of experience providing service to the broadcast industry.
The views expressed by Media Information Bureau columnists are those of the writer only and not of the editorial board of the Radio + Television Business Report or its parent, Streamline Publishing.