Senator Tells FCC Nominee: Fix FCC or We'll Fix It for You
At 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Julius Genachowski, President Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Communications Commission, appeared before the powerful Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. It didn't take long for members of the committee to make clear their deep dissatisfaction with how the agency has been operating.
"Time and again, the FCC has shortchanged consumers and the public interest," said committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.V. "The influence of special interests at the agency is especially troubling, even noteworthy in the distasteful way they clamor for their preferred candidates for FCC office."
"Fix the agency or we will fix it for you," he warned.
A Captive of Special Interests?
Rockefeller drew particular attention to the profound influence of special interests on the FCC. "Too often," Rockefeller said, "FCC commissioners have focused on making sure that the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines."
Despite the agency's dubious record in recent years and overall lack of transparency, Rockefeller said he is optimistic about the future of the FCC.
"I have met the administration's nominee for chairman," Rockefeller said, "and am thoroughly impressed. Mr. Genachowski brings to the job both public- and private-sector experience. He has enthusiasm for the power of communications."
A Focus on Indecency
One area of particular agreement among the senators and nominee was that the FCC should do more to enforce indecency laws. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican from Texas, told Genachowski that the agency must do more to regulate what can be broadcast.
"I do think there is a role [for the FCC] to play in enforcing indecency," she said. "I am amazed to see what is on the networks."
Rockefeller agreed. "Show us that parents can have confidence to view programming in their homes," he urged the nominee, "without their children being exposed to violent and indecent content."
Genachowski pledged to work on the issue. "I am a parent who is also concerned about what people see on TV," he said. "The FCC's job is to enforce the law, and it will enforce the law around indecency."
How much Genachowski or the FCC can accomplish remains to be seen. The law on broadcast indecency is still in flux, as evidenced by recent Supreme Court rulings on the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake 2004 Super Bowl halftime show and Bono's "excited utterance" at the Golden Globes.
More important, as technological innovations put more content online, the FCC's ability to influence content shrinks. Ultimately, indecency on television may be like the weather: People will complain about it, but nobody can really do anything.