Time to Kill the FCC?

After reading Jeff Jarvis’ account of how the Fox fine ($1.2 million) was not really 159 people, not 90 people, not 23 people, but 3 people I think the time has come for that nest of vipers known as the FCC to be wiped out (now before anybody gets hysterical, I’m not talking about anything violent, merely a complete dissolution of this bureaucratic dinosaur). I think the entire thing needs to completely dismantled. When 3 people can determine what is and is not appropriate for millions of people to watch on television there is a problem, IMO.

Some might try to draw an analogy to say the Supreme Court and the fact that it is 9 people who make decisions that affect millions. Granted it looks like a powerful argument, however there are some differences. These differences, in my view, are significant enough to invalidate the analogy. Witht he Supreme Court there is a vetting process through the Senate. Not just any old person with a computer and enough spare time can change the law. Further, the justices try to use past precedents, logic, and reason to make their decisions (note I wrote “try”). With the people making the complaint against FOX we have absolutely no idea what is guiding these people in their decision that the offending parts of Married by America are indeed offensive. Finally with the Supreme Court you have an opportunity for both sides to have their arguments expressed before the court. With the FCC there appears to e absolutely nothing at all like this.

Now others might argue that we need a some sort of rules for what can be broadcast over the public airwaves. Okay, that isn’t a bad point. But do we need a multi-million dollar bureaucracy that makes decesisions affecting millions of people that is apparently governed by 3 individuals? That strikes me as a bureaucracy that is completely bankrupt in terms of competency and understanding its mission.

The solution, in my view, must be equally as powerful: complete dissolution of the bureaucracy. And then start all over. Further, stipulate that anybody working for the old FCC is prohibitted from working at the newly formed agency. After all, why go through the trouble of getting rid of the problem in the first place only to re-institute the problem, but with a new name. One thing the new agency should do is come up with as clear as possible rules that constitute a dividing line between what is offensive and what is not. Also, there will need to be some sort of mechanism that reviews these standards. After all what is on television now probably would shock people 100 years ago (yes I know they didn’t have televisions, but it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine). Also, there should be a complaint process where a broadcasting company accused of violating the standards can have a fair hearing. No more strong arm tactics of holding up license renewals, granting sales/purchases of other stations, etc. Also, consider some sort of warning/rating system much like movies currently have. This will allow people to decide for themselves (or their children) if the upcoming material is something they want to watch. And it should be tatooed on every commissioners forehead that ultimately the viewers have the final say on what they watch: the remote. Change the channel, turn off the television, read a book, talk to your kids, etc. There is nothing that forces people to watch television, listen to the radio or anything of that nature.

Yes, that last part is pretty shocking isn’t it? You have ultimate decision making power. That is part of what it means to be free: make your own decisions. So don’t go giving it away to three anonymous people who have way to much time on their hands and want to force their view of morality on you.

Update: Over at my blog (yeah, so I’m a hit-whore) a Dan makes the following suggestion:

Why not just separate the FCC (and its powers) into

  1. a license-granting authority, and
  2. a censuring authority

that are mutually exclusive of one another?

Not a bad idea. It would make changing things easier, and those who work in the license-granting/technical side wouldn’t have to be put through the wringer due to the ineptitude of those on the censuring side. So break it in two, and completely redo the new censoring authority.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, US Politics, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. LJD says:

    Why stop at the FCC? Look at ALL of the bureaucracies, controlled by a handful of people with scary amounts of power.

    The DMV? When was the last time a voter had any input into vehicle and driver licensing? But we all pay. Our payments often received by inhuman employees with unseverable tenure…

    The IRS? Ut-oh, I’m not going there. THEY are likely watching…

    Then what-to-do with all the do-nothings who previously held the cushy government funded jobs? Where will they find another job with tax-funded expense lunches, long breaks, banker’s hours?

    Seriously though, I’m not putting much faith in Hollywood to produce much quality programming in the first place. Also not much in the viewing public who eat up programs like “My Big Fat Obnoxious Whatever”, “Who Wants To Do My Mom”, and “Let’s See How Many Chicks This Guy Can Bang if They Think He Has a Cool Million”.

    Yes, perhaps just turn it off. Or maybe a first step is forcing the cable company to let me pick the channels I want?

  2. McGehee says:

    Broadcast TV is a dinosaur too. Drop an asteroid on it.

  3. jd watson says:

    The majority of the FCC provides a vital technical serve, viz. allocating frequencies and power levels so that stations aren’t stepping all over each other’s broadcasts.

  4. McGehee says:

    As a “ham” (licensed amateur radio operator), I have to concede JDW’s point. But there’s little justification, in my opinion, to have the FCC taking a seemingly arbitrary stance on each new decency complaint that comes along.

    Since “decency” isn’t something definable by bureaucratic means (it seems to boil down to “whatever doesn’t offend at least three people who don’t have lives”), I think it needs to be left to the market to define, and to police with tools that can be provided to and controlled by individual viewers. Leave the FCC out of that subject entirely, and my objection to its exstence is profoundly diminished.

    If I get two other people to agree with me, and we write letters, experience suggests we should be able to get our way.

  5. denise says:

    Whatever problems there are at the FCC, the fact that this action was initiated by 3 people complaining doesn’t bother me.

    If we have reasonable and consistently applied standards, then that’s what should matter.

    I don’t know what was shown on the referenced program. I do assumed the commissioners actually watched the show and didn’t rely on the complaint letters. So I don’t have any opinion of this particular decision.

    I wouldn’t want a situation where fines are determined by the number of complaints. That would just be a popularity contest.

  6. Scott Dillard says:

    There should be NO standards. Tell the broadcast networks that since they use public airwaves, they pay the government 10% of their revenue off the top. In exchange, they can broadcast anything they want. Who really cares? Busybodies who complain about everything or people who are professionally offended. Make sure there is a parental block on all TVs and be done with it. I, for one, am tired of some government agency telling people what they can watch. Let the public decide through ratings what they are willing to put up with.