Top Senate Republican Fears FCC's 'Diversity' Chief May Use 'Back Door' to Regulate Talk Radio
August 17, 2009 - 5:49 PMSen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has expressed concern about the ideas of Mark Lloyd, the FCC's chief diversity officer, who once wrote that the government needs to regulate who can own radio stations and fine current station owners whose broadcasts are not diverse enough.
Grassley, who expressed his concerns in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Friday, said he was concerned that the new diversity chief would implement a back-door return of the “Fairness Doctrine,” a now-defunct policy which mandated that broadcasters devote equal airtime to both sides of controversial issues. A return to the Fairness Doctrine would spell the end of opinionated talk radio.
“Taken together, these statements represent a view that the FCC needs to expand its regulatory arm further into the commercial radio market,” Grassley wrote. “I am concerned that despite his statements that the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary, Mr. Lloyd supports a backdoor method of furthering the goals of the Fairness Doctrine by other means.”
Grassley said he “strongly disagreed” that government needs to regulate radio any further, saying that greater government involvement would not provide for a greater diversity of views on the airwaves.
“Simply put, I strongly disagree with Mr. Lloyd,” said Grassley. “I do not believe that more regulation, more taxes or fines, or increased government intervention in the commercial radio market will serve the public interest or further the goals of diversifying the marketplace.”
Grassley’s concerns arise from an paper Lloyd co-authored for the liberal Center for American Progress entitled, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.”
In this paper, Lloyd and his fellow co-authors laid out what they say are the “structural problems” of the nation’s radio regulatory system that they believe explains the success of conservative talk radio. The authors said these problems should remedied by increased government involvement.
“Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system,” the report said, “particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules, including the requirement of local participation in management.”
Lloyd and his co-authors rejected the idea that the Fairness Doctrine alone could solve these problems, arguing that the Doctrine must be part of a more sweeping regulatory effort aimed at curbing the influence of today’s political talkers.
“[T]he Fairness Doctrine was never, by itself, an effective tool to ensure fair discussion of important issues,” the report stated.
“The Fairness Doctrine was most effective as part of a regulatory structure that limited license terms to three years, subjected broadcasters to license challenges through comparative hearings, required notice to the local community that licenses were going to expire, and empowered the local community through a process of interviewing a variety of local leaders [about whether a station’s license should be renewed],” it added.
The report recommended that the government implement ownership caps, limit license terms, allow local interest groups to lobby against a broadcaster, and fine those station owners who “fail” to meet these requirements, with the funds going to support their public broadcasting competitors.
“[A]ny effort to encourage more responsive and balanced radio programming will first require steps to increase localism and diversify radio station ownership to better meet local and community needs,” the authors wrote.
“We suggest three ways to accomplish this: Restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations,” the report read. “Ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing. Require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting.”
Lloyd explained these requirements in a companion piece he wrote for CAP’s Web site entitled, “Forget the Fairness Doctrine.” There, Lloyd summed up his approach to regulating talk radio.
“Equal opportunity employment policies. Local engagement. License challenges,” he wrote. Explaining the fees broadcasters might face, he wrote that “commercial radio station owners either play by the rules or pay. In other words, if they don’t want to be subject to local criticism of how they are meeting their [new] license obligations, they should pay to support public broadcasters who will operate on behalf of the local community.”
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Genachowski rejected the idea that the FCC should be policing political speech.
“I don’t think the FCC should be involved in censorship of content based on political speech or opinion,” he told the Senate Commerce Committee.
Grassley told CNSNews.com that he wants Genachowski to keep his word and refrain from implementing Lloyd’s ideas.
“I took the new Chairman at his word when he told me prior to his Senate confirmation that he wouldn’t support any effort to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” the senator said. “Mr. Lloyd’s writings imply that the FCC can use power it already has to implement the goals of the Fairness Doctrine without actually reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.”
“These writings and the appointment of Mr. Lloyd to Chief Diversity Officer at the FCC could contradict the assurance I got from Chairman Genachowski,” said Grassley. “I expect Chairman Genachowski to keep his word and affirmatively state on the record that he’ll oppose the Fairness Doctrine, or any other regulatory efforts that could achieve the goals of the Fairness Doctrine.”
Calls to the FCC for comment were not returned before this story went to press.