By CLARENCE MCKEE
As a former communications attorney at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and legal assistant to two Commissioners, I have the greatest respect for our nation’s broadcast regulatory scheme and the FCC’s mandate to regulate broadcasting consistent with the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”
In that regard, I was pleased to see Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s reaction to CBS’s Stephen Colbert’s vulgar and obscene homophobic joke about President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pai said “…we are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it’s been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we’ll take the appropriate action.”
Let’s hope the FCC does take the “appropriate action!” As far as I am concerned, Colbert’s joke was neither indecent nor profane — it was obscene!
In case CBS and Colbert did not know it, the FCC’s own Consumer Guide states that “broadcasting of obscene material at any time of day is not protected by the First Amendment.”
In return for the privilege of being licensed as broadcast licensees, broadcasters, including the owned and operated television stations and local affiliates of the three major broadcast television networks, serve as trustees for the public interest.
Since broadcasting an obscenity is certainly not in the public interest and violates a broadcast licensee’s duty to be a public trustee, it could be argued that those CBS affiliates and owned and operated stations that broadcast his obscene joke violated that trust. The question is how many complaints have or will be filed against not only the network, but any of the stations that broadcast the obscenity? Broadcasting an obscenity is certainly a violation of the public trust! The question to be asked is whether a broadcast network whose news coverage purposely and consistently is one sided, distorted and unbalanced is also violating the public trust? Unlike newspapers and magazines, broadcasters have an affirmative statutory and regulatory obligation to serve the public interest.
When it comes to coverage of the Trump administration, the evidence clearly shows that the three broadcast networks — utilizing their owned and operated stations and affiliates — are giving the public biased, slanted and what could be called “rigged” news coverage.
Perhaps the best evidence of such television network bias and slanting of the news was clearly set forth by the Media Research Center’s L. Brent Bozell and Tim Graham in an April 26 commentary in CNS.com, “Trump’s 100 Days of Media Hostility.”
They graphically pointed out television network bias against the president: “In the first 98 days of Trump’s presidency (there was) 89 percent negative coverage.”
They went on to say that the “networks centered their stories not on ‘news’ but on what they find most objectionable about Trump” pointing out that coverage on the immigration travel ban issue was “93 percent negative;” as was the case with the Russia-Trump staff coordination story which received “97 percent negative coverage.” Most revealing were their observations on network news anchors: “Network news anchors have presented President Trump as a terrible liar, and for good measure, as potentially mentally ill.” The question is have the mainstream television networks, and by association, their owned and operated and affiliated stations, which carry such distorted news to the public, so violated the public trust and lowered themselves into the gutter of political bias, that they are no longer serving the public interest and do not deserve to be “public trustees” of the airwaves? Bozell and Graham call the treatment of Trump a “shameless and bitter partisan exercise.”
They are right! Is this one-sided coverage in the public interest?
Is pretending to be unbiased yet slanting the news and advocating a political viewpoint by certain television news organizations, their anchors, and some reporters in the public interest?
Although the FCC can’t interfere with broadcasters’ news or commentary judgement, its Consumer Guide states that “as public trustees, broadcasters may not intentionally distort the news” and that the FCC has publically stated that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.”
So where are the conservative groups petitioning or complaining to the FCC about such anti-public interest conduct? Let’s see if conservative watchdog groups follow through and ask Trump’s FCC to crack down on obscenity and the slanting and distortion of news to the American public.