Harold Feld, legal director of media watchdog Public Knowledge, wants the FCC to start protecting consumers, and that means he wants the agency to take an active role in bringing the Fox/Cablevision stalemate to an end. Even if it requires that FCC Chair Julius Genachowski find his “manpants.”
Feld says that it was Congress’s original intent that the FCC act as a consumer watchdog in its own right. He believes that were it not for the FCC’s own past actions, it would have authority right now to step in to the altercation on behalf of consumers.
His argument is that over the years, the FCC cheerfully stripped itself of the power to do anything, the better to serve corporate masters.
In a blog post published at Huffington, Feld went fairy tale to describe the situation: “Congress gave the FCC the job of Consumer Protection Cop to keep broadcasters from abusing their power as trustees of the public airwaves, and gave the FCC the power to do the job. Unfortunately, the FCC really wanted the job of ‘Palace Eunuch’ for the Media Barons. So the FCC busily went to work lopping off everything that stood between it and its desired job as Palace Eunuch. For 15 years, the FCC has loooooovvvved its job as Palace Eunuch for the Media Barons, wearing a very impressive Palace Eunuch uniform with those great big baggy pants and the cute little fez and toy sword it waves impressively when it tells members of the public to move along and stop trying to hold big media companies accountable for their public interest obligations. And as a reward, Palace Eunuch FCC got to go every year to the Big Media Baron Convention in Las Vegas to get praised and petted — which the FCC would reward by relaxing ownership rules further, rolling over on mergers, and rubber-stamping license renewals.”
Here’s where the manpants come in: “Happily for Genachowski, he can trade in the silly, baggy Eunuch pants for those bold, powerful ‘man pants’ Delaware Republican Senate Candidate Christine O’Donnell touted as the accessory for the season. Some months back, me employer Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation, backed by a bunch of cable companies and other subscription television providers (Rule 1: when you take on the Media Barons, always bring a posse), filed a Petition with the FCC asking the FCC to review its retrans rules. We asked the FCC to modify the rules to reflect the current marketplace realities and give the FCC tools to protect consumers when the retrans fights rage out of control — like the are now with Fox/Cablevision (and may tomorrow with Fox/DISH).”
Feld thinks that the mere threat of putting the retrans proceeding on an upcoming Open Meeting agenda may loosen Fox’s resolve. Otherwise, he suggests that Genachowski “…go shopping for a nice pair of those little pointy shoes with the bells on the toes to go with the baggy Eunuch pants.
RBR-TVBR observation: We keep saying this, and we’ll keep saying it as long as necessary. There should be no underlying assumption that the government should step in and do whatever it can to please MVPDs. Maybe the government should step in and put an end to the practice of paying more money to lightly-viewed cable-only channels that an MVPD happens to have a financial interest in than is paid for highly-viewed broadcast stations that provide a cornerstone of the MVPD’s channel lineup.