Former Democratic FCC commissioner Glen Robinson has taken aim at the agency's Future of Media initiative, suggesting the commission may be trying to force-feed its brand of news and information on the public.
In an essay for free market think tank, The Free State Foundation, Robinson points to the FCC's concluding question among the 42 it included in its public notice on the initiative: "What questions have we failed to ask that we should?"
Robinson wrote that the more pertinent question is "Why are you [the FCC] asking all these questions?" He pointed out that there are already open, official proceedings that [are] dealing with the issues of media's future--ownership rules, localism--without adding "redundant inquiries chasing the same question."
For example, he said, if the commission thinks local broadcasters need to provide more local programming (which he labels a dubious proposition, "surely the localism proceeding is quite capable of addressing that issue without generating a grand inquiry into the information needs of citizens."
Instead, he argued, the FCC appears to be trying to promote its idea of what news and information the public should be interested in, borrowing what he said was the perfect phrase to describe it: "broccoli television."
"Americans today have access to more sources of information by orders of magnitude than they did a scant decade ago, thanks to the availability of multi-channel cable and satellite, the Internet and the literally countless content providers that feed these delivery systems," he said. "The FCC appears to believe nevertheless that it is not the right kind of information."
FCC chairman Julius Genachowksi and the initiative's director, Steve Waldman, have both indicated that the goal is not to dictate content, but instead insure that community information needs are met at a time when the business and journalism models of traditional media are in flux.
Robinson also took the opportunity to give the FCC a dig over title II reclassification. "The FCC's claim to be the 'nation's expert agency involved in media and communications policies' should prompt some lifted eyebrows," he said. "It reflects the same conceit that produced the agency's extraordinary concept of 'ancillary jurisdiction' under which it has asserted authority to roam beyond the specific terms of the Communications Act to address issues it deemed to be connected to ;interstate communications by wire or radio.' A recent decision by the court of appeals on the subject of net neutrality put some limits on that concept as concerns regulatory rules. Unfortunately, it did not limit the Commission's ability to conduct free-roving inquiries unsupported by regulatory authority."
The FCC, on its commission reform page, cites Robinson as something of an authority on criticism of the agency, quoting him from 40 years ago as saying "few agencies of government have been so doggedly pursued by critics as the FCC."
Robinson could be counted in that fold in recent years. He was also among a group of former commissioners and chairmen, including iconic broadcast critic Newton Minow, who took the FCC to task for its crackdown on fleeting indecency.