Editorial: A Study in Responsibility

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill that would call for a government investigation into “hate speech” on broadcast, cable and the Internet. But more than that, it could seek ways to “address” that use of the airwaves and wires.

The bill would update a two-decades-old report on the role of TV, radio, and now the Internet “in encouraging hate crimes based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” At least Markey says the goal is to insure those media are not inciting hate speech.

The measure would have the government—specifically the National Telecommunications & Information Administration—do a year-long study to look at both broadcast and cable speech, including public access TV, over which cable operators have little control, as well as commercial mobile services.

If it did get through the Senate, the bill is highly unlikely to go anywhere in the House. That is a good thing. It strikes us more as a visceral reaction to the killings in Kansas, perpetrated by an avowed racist.

But we would like to point out that broadcasters and the FCC have already tried to keep the alleged shooter’s hateful speech off the airwaves.

The alleged shooter in the Kansas City attack was identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, who, as Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., ran as a white supremacist write-in senatorial candidate from Missouri.

Miller/Cross had been denied a broadcast platform for his views, thanks to Missouri broadcasters and the FCC. In 2010, the FCC advised Missouri broadcasters it “would not be unreasonable” for them to find he was not a bona fide candidate and did not qualify for mandatory airtime under FCC rules, according to commission sources at the time.

Stations have to make commercial airtime available to bona fide candidates. But after Missouri broadcasters (and the state’s attorney general) sought a declaratory ruling that Miller/Cross was not a candidate and would not qualify for airtime, the FCC provided the corroborating advice informally, which sometimes happens with political ad questions because time is usually of the essence.

So the most relevant role of broadcasters in this incident of hateful speech and conduct was as responsible stewards of the airwaves. And we didn’t need a year-long report to identify them as such.