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FCC “Study” vs. the First Amendment

The Obama administration is planning to send what critics characterize as government spies into the newsrooms of the nation’s media outlets.

This unprecedented assault on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms is part of the Community Organizer-in-Chief’s political war against the few pockets of media resistance he has encountered at Fox News and in the world of talk radio. Sending federal bureaucrats to meddle in newsroom affairs by conducting an alleged “study” will chill news coverage and make government-licensed broadcast media think twice about airing stories that place the Obama administration in a bad light.

To this end the Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN. Although the FCC is a regulatory body, not a research organization, it plans to send researchers to question reporters, editors, and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. In the spring a field test is set for Columbia, S.C.

To understand how this could happen, you first have to trace the origins of the FCC itself.

The FCC’s mission, specified in Section One of the Communications Act of 1934 and amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (amendment to 47 U.S.C. §151) is to “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.” The Act furthermore provides that the FCC was created “for the purpose of the national defense” and “for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”

Government regulation of private media for the purpose of national defense? Or fighting racism? Or anything else? This is precisely how Nazi or Communist dictatorships rationalize their abuses of power. The great danger of the FCC was there from the beginning. It was only a matter of time before the federal government resolved to regulate content.

This law has always been on a collision course with the First Amendment, i.e. the right of free speech, the right to a private media.

The remarkable thing about all this is how insecure Obama and those who support his policies are. They don’t need an FCC to intimidate the few sectors of the media critical of their policies.

Obama already controls half of Congress, and sets the agenda for all of Congress. (Witness: The most recent budget.) The Supreme Court is more favorable than not to his policies. (Witness: Upholding of Obamacare.) Virtually all of academia (particularly the Ivy League), the extent to which it takes positions on political policies, is on the side of Obama. With the exception of Fox News and talk radio, nearly all of the radio and traditional print media is on his side. The Internet is more divided. But for the most part, if it’s Obama’s policies you want, then you can count on “the Establishment” to be on your side.

Dictators and authoritarians do not like dissension. They are convinced that they’re right. The problem? Facts and logic sometimes get in the way. They don’t like it when people use facts and logic, to think for themselves, to question their power or authority. Fully free speech means fully free thought. It’s really independent and objective thought that its enemies are after.

They’ll rationalize that they’re all in favor of thought — just so that thought is rational, and correct. But freedom of speech and thought does not oblige you to be right, or even rational. It only obliges you to keep your speech to your own property (or media outlet), and respect the same in others.

The key to Obama’s manipulation here is the term “racism.” Racism actually refers to a tribal or primitive viewpoint in which race is elevated above the individual as the defining human characteristic. In practice, “racism” today has come to be associated with any policies in opposition to Obama. If you don’t support socialized medicine, you’re racist. If you don’t support higher taxes on the wealthy, or government regulation/control of the private sector, you’re racist.

These positions, of course, have nothing whatsoever to do with racism. But that’s the rationalization Obama and his supporters are using for sending federal “researchers” into private media newsrooms to — let’s be real — intimidate them.

The FCC charter states that it’s government’s job to create an “adequate” communication system with “reasonable” charges. No, it’s not. Only a free marketplace can do this. Since the Communications Act was passed in the 1930s, America has been poised to eventually elect a President who didn’t hesitate to utilize the power of the FCC for his own political agenda. “Fighting racism,” which is how Obama justifies this policy, is simply code for: Fighting those who disagree with and question me.

Obama is merely running with the arbitrary power that Congress gave him. To date, he’s the President least intimidated by the First Amendment. That’s why this is all so unprecedented.

In order to fight this first step towards a literal dictatorship in the United States, opponents of these policies will have to strike at the core of the whole problem: The legislation which made all this possible in the first place.

We can only hope that Americans rise up in principled protest against this new abuse of power. Otherwise, our right to free speech will go the way of health care and everything else.

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  • mkkevitt

    But there’s no sign, yet that Obama or a future President will fine or jail anybody for exercising the right of free speech. He will just use other unwarranted powers, like de-licensing broadcasters and other means beyond the FCC, to encourage people to keep their traps shut. These will be violations of OTHER rights, not of free speech. Those powers are unwarranted despite their establishment by legislation, court rulings or executive order. None of those are law, because they violate individual rights. But the President will USE these powers anyway, under the legislation, ruling or order. He must be challenged for what he does, not for intended, or hoped for, side effects like self-censorship. If Congress and the courts aren’t instrumental in this, people might have to act anyway, on their own. The ‘bottom line’ IS freedom of speech, or the loss if it, even if it is only as an indirect, incidental consequence of something else done by unwarranted power. Mike Kevitt