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Editorial: We'll Be Watching

At his nomination hearing last week, Julius Genachowski said nothing that could have impaired his chances to be named to head the FCC. He got rave reviews—and a yes vote—from Democrats and Republicans alike.

“If you aren't qualified to be FCC chairman,” one senator said, “I don't know who is.” And that was a Republican.

Genachowski's nimble negotiation of policy questions could obviously be nomination-speak, but we prefer to take him at his word. And we're going to hold him to it.

Perhaps most encouraging was his response to the Democratic red meat of media consolidation. Given an opportunity to lay into the industry, he instead was circumspect, saying the record on ownership diversity was not great and that the commission should pursue ownership diversity per its charter in the Communications Act. But he also said the commission must remain mindful of the beating broadcasters and newspapers have taken of late. Genachowski brings experience in venture capital, broadcasting, Internet, law and FCC policy-making, so he has seen plenty of trenches to go with the ivory towers.

He staked out no absolutist position on network neutrality, though where he comes down could be determined by what is expected to be a close relationship with the White House and his old friend, the president.

He also apparently wanted to put the Fairness Doctrine issue to rest, though he may have failed to do so. In an exchange that wound up on YouTube, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said during the hearing that she had talked with Genachowski in her office about the doctrine: “As I understood it, you said that you did not support reviving it or policies like it directly or indirectly through localism and that sort of thing.” But she also asked him to confirm that publicly or “restate it” if he liked, so it was not clear if his answer was confirmation or restatement.

“I don't support reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine,” he replied. “I believe strongly in the First Amendment. I don't think the FCC should be involved in censorship of content based on political speech or opinion.” Neither do we, but it remains to be seen how he will interpret that in terms of localism proposals, like community advisory boards, that some broadcasters fear could chill or micro-manage speech.

Genachowski was too eager to uphold indecency regulations, but also said he supported technological solutions to parental control. Our advice: Concentrate on the latter. There is too much else on the FCC's plate to get neck-deep in the big muddy of policing speech.

It's too early to get a read on Genachowski as a chairman, but he made for an impressive and engaging nominee worth watching. We will be, that's for certain.