Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Glenn Beck went on again about the Fairness Doctrine for longer than I could stand, but at least he did add something unusual to the argument: a scintilla of evidence.

It wasn't entirely clear from Beck's account whether the mayor of Toledo actually wanted the Fairness Doctrine restored -- what he said on radio was that he wanted Congress to look at the "fairness principle" -- but the newspaper account seems pretty clear. So there is at least one high-ranking official in a mid-sized American city who thinks the Fairness Doctrine is a good idea. As Toledo goes, so goes the nation.

If you haven't been keeping up with comments to my last post on this topic, you should scroll down a bit and take a look. Mark Tokarski, in particular, has some thoughtful things to say.

I have to admit that, given right-wing radio hosts' relentlessly wrong approach to just about everything in recent years, their shrill opposition to the Fairness Doctrine is beginning to make me think that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea. One particular annoyance is the repeated insistence by Beck, Hannity, etc., that restoring the Fairness Doctrine would silence my voice.

How's that? I have absolutely no voice in right-wing radio. Limbaugh openly acknowledges that the calls he takes are specifically designed to reinforce his points. Beck is too clownish to handle a serious call. Savage is insane. Hannity will take calls from people who hold opposing views, but he repeatedly cuts them off, mocks them and distorts their arguments. The only power I have over any of those shows is to simply not listen to them in hopes that sagging ratings will drive them away. I don't think that's exactly what the founding fathers had in mind.

I still think that restoring any sort of Fairness Doctrine with strict equal-time provisions would be a bad idea. But I don't see what's wrong with being able to go to the FCC at license renewal time and arguing that KBLG and KBUL, by flooding the airwaves with conservative talk with virtually no alternative voices, aren't serving the public interest. And that Billings would be better served if the FCC would award those licenses instead to, for example, me.


Montana Headlines said...

You're not thinking big enough. There are lots of licenses out there to grab with FCC complaints. For instance, what about those rock stations who never play country, or vice versa? And many of those stations don't do enough serious news -- some don't do any. Some even have mindless chatter and drivel on the morning drive. Shocking.

I mean, really, the people who tune in to those stations only so they can hear the programming they are interested in listening to. They are designing their programming around getting advertising dollars that will help turn a profit. How beneficial is that? Somebody has to stop those stations from giving people what they want, and make them do something useful for a change with their frequency.

Seriously -- your main problem is that you are thinking of talk radio in terms of news, rather than comfy entertainment. Some conservatives would rather listen to Laura Ingraham, some folks in the hood like to listen to rap, some truckers like to listen to Merle, some liberals like to listen to NPR while sipping their latte and nibbling on brie.

Vive la différence!

David said...

Your comment raises the largest question: Should we simply auction the airwaves to the highest bidder? Does the public have any reasonable expectation of anything from radio (let alone TV) other than 24 hours a day of programming aimed at producing the highest possible profit? If profit really is all that it's about, then why should there be any restrictions at all?

Montana Headlines said...

The whole idea of FCC review and public benefit comes from an antiquated view of the airwaves, by which it was felt that since there was a limited amount of "space" for broadcasting, it needed to be regulated and parcelled out.

The truth is that every market has space on the airwaves that is going unused. From what I understand, there are license-holders for frequencies who aren't broadcasting on them -- one of the frustrations of wireless carriers is that they would like existing TV to be scrunched together so they could have more access to much of that currently unused spectrum.

As time goes by, there is probably going to be increasing amounts of space available in the TV frequencies -- space that could be used for wireless networks, or perhaps used to make more FM space available on the dial.

And in the age of the internet and satellite transmission and cable TV, many of the old ideas have been left in the dust.

I listen to radio programming all the time -- BBC, Deutsche Welle, and various domestic and foreign stations. But rarely do I ever actually turn on the radio, unless it's to listen to Jim Thompson or Dave Rye for some regional color. It's all internet and satellite for pretty much everything I listen to.

Other than having regulations to make sure that one station isn't encroaching on another's broadcast frequency, I don't think there should be any regulation at all.

What regulations do you have on you as a newspaper publisher from the state or federal government saying what you do and don't have to have in your newspaper?

The idea that radio, TV, and internet should be any less protected by the 1st Amendment to say what they durn well please is based, again, on dramatically outdated ideas of how broadcast works.

I'll bet that if a liberal wanted to buy a radio station in Billings and have Al Franken on the air around the clock, there would probably not be much problem finding a seller, if the price were right. The problem then would be economic viability -- not access.

For that matter, if a liberal benefactor wanted to buy up time on some of those stations, guaranteeing the same revenue from running Al Franken as they would get from the same amount of time with Rush on the air -- I'll bet they'd get their time.

This sounds like something you could do a piece of investigative journalism on -- checking out what the constraints are to starting new stations or buying old ones.

David said...

Just to see if I understand what you are saying here: Would you sell off the spectrum to broadcasters and take the FCC totally out of the picture, except for adjudicating technical disputes? How about profanity? Adult programming? Public service announcements? Any limits at all, outside of those that already apply to print?