Gannett's Lougee: Protecting Expression Means Protecting Content

Gannett Broadcasting President David Lougee said that just as broadcasters accept they are a regulated business, policymakers need to accept that broadcasters must be able to control their content.

He did not refer to broadcasters' fight with Aereo over distribution of that content, but he did not have to.

Lougee, who received the First Amendment Leadership Award from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation at a dinner in Washington Wednesday night, Used that platform to argue that protecting free speech also means protecting content. And he said it went beyond being simply a question of copyright.

"Fostering free expression requires that content creators be able to control their content, he said. "The First Amendment is not one's constituent. It does not have a political action committee and it doesn’t' vote. So, it is hardly a surprise when it doesn't have a voice in Washington, but, I would ask all of you in this room, what voice could possibly be more important."

Lougee also pointed out that while broadcasters public interest obligations are at the core of "who we are and what we do," they also put limitations on how broadcasters can compete with new media. "We can't run House of Cards or Breaking Bad on our prime time schedules and neither can our network partners," he said. Lougee said he was not asking for help from the government, beyond a recognition that facilitating free expression, rather than political expediency, should be the prism through which any regulatory action was viewed.

Broadcasters may not have House of Cards, but Lougee suggested they have a trump card in local coverage of issues. "Too many national news decisionmakers live in the echo chamber of D.C. or Manhattan," he said, and "some have never lived anywhere else. But 97% of the country doesn't live inside the Beltway or in New York...No national media organization can or will cover all those critical local issues.

Lougee said that "the continued health of our Republic requires a robust and healthy business model of local journalism in every community." He said that model must evolve, and that companies like his--"there is no cavalry of local Web journalists coming over the hill to save the day"--and others (he cited Hearst as an example) needed to embrace new technologies and social media. "social media is God's givt to television and local broadcast journalism, too, if we're smart enough to see it and embrace it."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.