Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Boy-King Crowned at FCC

Well, the PTC got their wish. On Friday, Harry Potter doppelganger Kevin Martin was appointed as Chairman of the FCC by President Bush.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Martin is a loyal Bush crony (apparently the one and only requirement for a plum government appointment these days).

Before Bush appointed him as an FCC Commissioner in 2001, Martin served his master in several capacities. He previously worked in the White House as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy (nice work, Kevin). Prior to that he held a technology and telecommunications post on the Bush-Cheney transition team and served as Deputy General Counsel to the 2000 Bush campaign. As if these conservative bona fides weren't enough, Martin worked with Kenneth Starr in the Office of the Independent Counsel during the Whitewater investigation.

His tenure at the FCC was marked by frequent disagreements with former Chairman Michael Powell over issues of broadcast standards. It would be safe to say that Martin never saw an indecency claim he didn't like, regularly issuing dissents when claims were denied.

He has long advocated strengthening the FCC's punitive power by raising the maximum fines for indecency. In a 2003 speech, Martin hinted at his vision for the FCC: "At a minimum, we need to use the bully pulpit to persuade broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite providers to re-think their approach to family-friendly programming."

Unfortunately, his idea of "family-friendly" closely matches the narrow standards of the right-wing PTC: both hold PAX-TV in alarmingly high regard.

Martin's coziness to Brent Bozell's group is certainly cause for suspicion, since the PTC is not merely in favor of family-friendly programming (not a bad goal in and of itself), they are actively pro-censorship. They don't want to broaden programming choices; they want to eliminate those they find distasteful.

Citing a huge increase in the volume of complaints, Martin advocates changing the rules of the FCC to take into account the number of complaints any given broadcast receives and treating those complaints individually rather than as a single complaint. This seems benign, but it is really intended to aggrandize the PTC, which was found to be responsible for over 99% of all complaints filed in 2003.

Martin outlines his support for the agenda of the PTC in this 2003 letter addressed to Brent Bozell and sent to other interested parties. It is instructive to take note of the groups the PTC allies itself with. These groups—all of them right-wing, moralistic outfits—include the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.

With Martin at the helm of the FCC, we can reasonably expect more indecency claims to be upheld, which would translate into a huge spike in fines levied against broadcasters. It is the avowed goal of the PTC to use these tactics to cleanse the airwaves of programs that don't fit their right-wing, Christian point of view. Don't be surprised if Martin plays along.
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