FCC Commissioner Says Diversity Chief’s Ideas for Regulating Free Speech Are ‘Troubling’

October 13, 2009 - 5:28 PM
Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell has called the statements and writings of FCC Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd "troubling," adding that everyone should be concerned when federal regulators have the power to impact freedom of speech.

FCC seal

(CNSNews.com) – Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell said Tuesday that statements about regulating freedom of speech in broadcasting made by FCC Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd are “troubling.”  Everyone should be concerned when federal regulators have the power to impact freedom of speech, McDowell added.

In his 2006 book “Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy in America,” Lloyd wrote that public broadcasting outlets should be funded at a level “commensurate with or above those spending levels at which commercial operations are funded.” 
 
He said that the funds do so should come from “license fees charged to commercial broadcasters”--the same “commercial broadcasters" that would have to compete with these public broadcasting outlets.
 
Concerns that such policies might negatively impact the First Amendment right to freedom of speech were “exaggerations,” said Lloyd, who also wrote that such protestations were evidence that the First Amendment had become “warped” to serve unnamed “global corporations.”
 
“It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press,” Lloyd wrote. “This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other communications policies.”
 
“[T]he purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block [government] rules that would promote democratic governance,” said Lloyd.
 
McDowell, one of the FCC’s two Republican members, said that he found such ideas “troubling,” noting that he had been assured by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that Lloyd’s duties would be confined to civil rights and diversity in broadband.
 
“I find such ideas troubling,” McDowell told CNSNews.com. “Certainly, he has a right to express them. The chairman, as CEO of the commission, has, I guess, a right to employ him. And I’ve been told by him and the chairman that he’s working on other matters not related to those issues.”

Nevertheless, McDowell said that people should vigilantly watch for any attempts to make Lloyd’s ideas official federal policy, adding that concerns raised about Lloyd and his proximity to the levers of federal rule-making were legitimate and that those concerned should make their voices heard.
 
“We should continue to see if there is any effort to make such ideas commission policy, and I hope at the end of our process that would be brought to light and there would be opportunity for public comment and scrutiny,” said McDowell.
 
“I think that we should always remain vigilant whenever a regulatory agency can impact freedom of speech,” he said. “So as we go forward with our media ownership and localism proceedings next year, I think everyone should watch very carefully what the FCC attempts to do.”

While serving as a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, Lloyd called for the government to reduce the number of broadcast outlets a company own as a means of reducing the number of radio stations carrying conservative programs. He wrore that “no one entity should control more than 10 percent of the total commercial radio stations in a given market.”
 
Lloyd also said that no one entity should own “more than four commercial stations in large markets (a radio market with 45 or more commercial stations).”
 
Currently, an entity may own no more than eight stations in a large market. Lloyd’s recommendation, were it to become policy, could force station owners carrying programs such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin to sell their stations.