Skip to main content

Media Policy Priorities for President Obama

Related: Complete Election 2008 coverage

Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama. Americans need someone to believe in. And even if the cynics say he is an invention of marketing, successful people always have been. It just that sometimes it wasn't called marketing.

Broadcasters are certainly richer for the senator's decision not to limit his campaign to federal funding. His media ad blitz clearly paid off, as did his canny use of the Internet to reach out and touch voters, and their wallets.

B&C also appreciates his willingness to respond to questions we put to him about his media policy, something Sen. John McCain did not. We don't agree with everything Obama stands for, but we appreciate his openness, a refreshing change from the current administration. We hope that continues.

Now that the tough work of getting elected is over, however, the even tougher job of governing begins.

First off, we will hold President Obama to his word that he does not support reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which, speaking of marketing, sounds like something no one could oppose. The truth, of course, is quite different. While we still believe, and certainly hope, there is more smoke than fire on that issue, it has been heating up in recent days. On Election Day, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), on Fox News of all places, said that if the government can limit pornography on the air, it ought to be able force broadcasters to be "fair and balanced."

The two have nothing to do with each other, and the fact that a senator of his stature could say that with a straight face raises anew the fear that Democrats will try to revive the Fairness Doctrine. If the newly empowered Democrats in Congress do attempt to silence their critics—many say Democrats want to stifle Rush Limbaugh and his wannabes—we fully expect President Obama to stick to his guns and make his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine clear.

We also encourage the president to look for a bridge-builder in the new FCC chairman. The tension is palpable at the current commission, thanks in part to the chairman's management style, but also to some rough handling elsewhere on the eighth floor. The sniping is not just across party lines. Equal-opportunity infighting is no way to run the FCC. There are too many important issues to deal with, from broadband deployment to emergency communications to finally deciding ownership limits once and for all.

President Obama is committed to an open Internet and diversity in the media. But we hope he is also open to different paths to that end. For example, an Internet that remains open to crucial capital investment, and diversity that is also served by ensuring a robust broadcast business that allows those voices to be heard at all.

Which brings us back to the Fairness Doctrine. A rule that requires broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues sounds like it promotes diverse dialogue. In prior practice it was a disincentive because of the threat of governmental censure. No print news organization would accept government rules; broadcasters should be similarly unshackled. It's not the job of Congress or the FCC to control content, but it will be the job of Obama, when he is president, to make sure sure he lets Washington know that's what he thinks, too.