Over 120 members of Congress sent a letter to the FCC this week arguing against new localism mandates being considered by the Commission. Led by Marsha Blackburn, these legislators are rejecting calls to embrace government control of content on the airwaves. As the letter correctly points out, imposing new federal rules on broadcasters is likely to exacerbate the very problems the FCC seeks to remedy.
Giant media companies are accused of silencing independent voices and depriving communities of diverse news coverage. Yet not everyone agrees that local content is suffering. FCC Commissioner Michael Powell recently argued that community-driven programming is thriving, especially since the Internet has taken off.
Local stations have it tough these days. FCC rules run the risk of putting the nail in the coffin for struggling broadcasters. We need more choices, not fewer ones, and dictating mediocrity on the airwaves will only push media companies away from radio and television.
Groups like Free Press warn that media consolidation threatens the fabric of American democracy. But there’s nothing democratic about unelected Washington bureaucrats deciding what radio and TV stations should air. Contrary to interventionists’ claims, the financial interest of media companies and the public interest go hand in hand. Firms select programs based on ratings, a direct measure of audience size. If a show isn’t attracting enough viewers, it gets axed. If that’s not democracy at work, what is?
Speaking of democracy, regulators ignore how the game has changed since the blogosphere has emerged. It’s the new public forum, allowing millions of Americans to voice in on hot political topics and local legislative contests. From Instapundit to DailyKos, popular blogs with independent perspectives offer vigorous intellectual discussion on an Athenian scale, unimaginable to democratic observers of the past. Some of these independent sites are even usurping traditional news outlets, and citizen journalists cover news both on a national and local scale.
The Internet has also brought us myriad new ways of getting news and commentary. Mobile browsing is expected to explode to 1.5 billion devices in just a few years, and broadband Internet now reaches 99% of U.S. zip codes. RSS news feeds let readers hear about the latest events as they unfold, from virtually any source imaginable. It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be able to get news and video anywhere, anytime.
The localism debate reminds us of the FCC’s increasing irrelevance. The digital age has dawned, and Americans no longer rely on a small handful of media sources for local news, but the FCC still wants to regulate “traditional” media companies as if the Internet had never existed. The airwaves should stay free and open, or broadcasters may soon become a distant memory.