Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Walden Defends FCC Vote...by Agreeing With Detractors

Color me a little surprised that District Two's Greg Walden voted for tougher FCC standards enforcement, but then again color me not so much--he's pulled simultaneously by his family profession of radio ownership, and his representation of people who think Janet Jackson and Hollywood are sending this country to Gomorrah on an aerial tram. Seattle Times reporter Mark Rahner got a story idea from the surprise angle, and got some surprising quotes out of Walden in response. (I feel obligated to point out that this is not originating in an Oregon paper. Why is that the case? Also, hat tip Andrew at Northwest Progressive.) At various times he appeared to weakly defend his vote, admitted the vote was problematic, and agreed that it was probably pissing in the wind anyway. Don't you feel better for his representation now?

His opening response to the question posed above--why did he appear to vote out of his personal interest--was basically answered by identifying his "character police" role (Walden comments in bold):
Well, the industry was clearly at a point where the level of fines being issued by the commission were not serving as a deterrent now. In part, that's because the commission hadn't been aggressively pursuing these issues, so the boundaries continued to move and move and move, until the public got tired of it and the Congress acted.

A miniscule number of individuals actually complain to the FCC, and most complaints are generated by mass e-mailings from such activist groups as the Parents Television Council. So for many Americans, isn't this a non-issue?

Well, it may be, although ... I hear about it in community meetings and such. But beyond that, I think boundaries had been pushed to an extreme level in some instances, certainly.
Note how Rahner calls Walden on the "public got tired" talking point, recalling correctly that action is often taken on the basis of very few original complaints. Walden retreats to hearing about it at community meetings.

Walden's defense of the zero-tolerance policy for potential indecency is a curious one: nuance was too confusing:
The FCC's recent decisions leave you a bit confused as broadcasters to where the limits are, because certain words used in the context of "Saving Private Ryan" they decided fit an artistic pattern and are allowed. However, were those same words used in a live interview, a TV show, they have decided to fine stations. So as a broadcaster you say, "How do I know in advance how you're going to rule?"
Some people might say they don't want someone else deciding for them what's offensive — and "protecting" them. What's obscene to me may not be obscene to you.

True. But if you're the licensee and you are subject to upwards of a $325,000 fine for one instance, we need a that tells us very clearly: These words aren't allowed regardless of the context.
It was just too hard to keep straight whether this "damn" was as bad as that "asshole," so better we just ban it all. Thanks Greg!

But wait, what about that pesky First Amendment thing? Weakly citing the notion that we can control free TV but not pay TV--as if cable and satellite aren't using public airwaves--he then uses the "fire in a crowded theater" exception to justify penalizing KOIN 300 large when Joe Sixpack yells motherfucker at a Beavers game too close to the field mikes. And then, suddenly cognizant again that non-broadcast channels are free of restriction, he allows that on a legal basis the law is ultimately doomed:
Do you think the fines will eventually stretch to cable and the satellite?

I actually think they'll probably go the other way. I think eventually a court will throw it all out as a violation of the First Amendment because broadcast programming is no longer the only programming coming into the home. Now again, you still have this differentiation between that which is paid for and that which comes in free, and the courts have hung their hat on that a bit, too. With all these other services coming our way through the Internet, through satellite, through cable and now eventually through your phone service, I think that argument begins to wash away.
Way to stand up for the Constitution, buddy.

Carol Voisin, how would you have voted?