Of all of the incoming Obama appointments, one that is truly important but could be easily forgotten in the flood of news since our 44th president was sworn in is that of a new FCC commissioner to replace the happily-now-departed Kevin Martin and his predecessor, Michael Powell (and oh yes, please remind me once more how Powell was nominated as a commissioner by Bill Clinton – he was nominated as chairman by Dubya, though).
This gives us a rundown on Martin’s tenure, the only redeeming aspect of which was his continued oversight (some would say persecution, but not me) of Comcast for “blocking access (to) its subscribers (of BitTorrent’s) file sharing software in (the company’s) first documented instance of violating net neutrality,” though, as Matt Stoller also notes at Open Left (embedded in the prior post), Martin also “aggressively pushed through a merger of AT&T and Bellsouth into the largest telecom company in the world, supported the massive Sirius-XM Merger, supported relaxed cross-ownership restrictions on local media, deregulated DSL broadband providers, and enforced indecency provisions” (nothing wrong with that last one, I know, except when you consider how ridiculous those provisions became under Bushco).
And considering that last item in particular, this Murdoch Street Journal story tells us that the soon-to-be-Souter-less Supremes…
…order(ed) a federal appeals court to re-examine its ruling in favor of CBS Corp. over Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.
The court Monday directed the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to consider reinstating the $550,000 fine that the Federal Communications Commission imposed on CBS over Ms. Jackson’s breast-baring performance at the 2004 Super Bowl.
Last year, the appeals court threw out the fine against CBS, saying the FCC strayed from its long-held approach of applying identical standards to words and images when reviewing complaints of indecency.
The appellate court said the incident lasted nine-sixteenths of one second and should have been regarded as “fleeting.”
But last week, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the FCC’s policy threatening fines on so-called fleeting expletives on live television.
So the court basically reinstated the fine against CBS for the whole “Tit That Will Never Die” fiasco AND the fine in the case of Bono saying that winning a Golden Globe was “f*cking brilliant!” (yeah, way to add onto this mess by not curbing your tongue, Mr. “I’m Trying-To-Save-The-World” Potty Mouth!).
I thought this was an instructive portion of this Journal story on the subject…
“Programming replete with one-word indecent expletives will tend to produce children” who use them, Justice Scalia wrote.
In dissent, Justice Stevens called it “ironic…that while the FCC patrols the airwaves for words that have a tenuous relationship with sex or excrement, commercials broadcast during prime-time hours frequently ask viewers whether they too are battling erectile dysfunction or having trouble going to the bathroom.”
Yeah, Stevens blew it on the Indiana Voter ID ruling last year, but he has a thing or two “on the ball” here.
But the most important aspect of this to me is as follows…
The decision (on the fleeting expletives) effectively sends the issue to the Obama administration, which has three vacancies to fill on the five-member FCC. With broadcasters pledging to press the free-speech argument next, the commission will have to decide whether to continue a defense of the Bush administration rule or, as many in the entertainment and communications industries have urged, drop it altogether.
Obviously, I would tend to believe that the latter here is the best course of action.
And what’s needed fairly urgently I think are hearings on the person named by Obama to head the FCC, and that would be Julius Genachowski; as noted here, Genachowski’s nomination has been received by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, but hearings have yet to be scheduled. My suspicion is that hearings are likely to be delayed until Obama names a Republican appointee (the commission must have two Democrats and two Republicans; the other Dem commissioner nominated, as noted here, is Mignon Clyburn, the daughter of James Clyburn, the Dem U.S. Hose rep from South Carolina and House Majority Whip).
And once the new commission is in place, these ridiculous fines and rules for indecency and language should either be eliminated or rolled back to Clinton-era levels, the last time we had adults running the executive branch of government before now.
Update 6/26/09: Good news (here).