The new head of the Federal Communications Commission pledged yesterday that a primary goal of the agency will be eliminating FCC regulations based on the "public interest" concept that has governed regulation of television and radio.
FCC Chairman Mark Fowler said in a speech to the Oregon Association of Broadcasters in Newport, Ore., that the same principles "that led to the recent decision to begin deregulation of radio also apply to television." Copies of Fowler's speech were released in Washington.
"A primary goal of the commission in the months to come will be to strip away the layers of rules, policies and programs that now encrust the basic 'public interest' concept," said Fowler, a former broadcaster and Washington communications lawyer.
Fowler said the development of new technologies such as cable and subscription television "clearly makes some of these rules and policies as anachronistic as the vacuum radio tube."
Fowler strongly hinted that he opposes limiting broadcasters' ownership of other medio, such as a current ban on television network operation of cable systems, and programming regulations, such as the Fairness Doctrine, which is designed to force broadcasters to air all sides of public issues.
"I question structural rules that, based on a world that existed two or more decades ago, limit your ability to diversify by expanding into ownership of new technologies," Fowler said.
"And more than anything else, I question whether there remains any longer a positive public purpose to be served by rules and policies that restrict your First Amendment rights to provide programming and viewpoints as you see fit," he said.
Fowler's remarks are likely to bring cheer to the broadcasters, who have been urging modification of radio and television regulation for some years. The industry's relationship with Fowler's predecessor, Charles Ferris, was poor, and Fowler's first speech to a broadcasting audience is likely to rebuild bridges broken during Ferris' four-year tenure.
Fowler also sharply criticized the FCC's earlier attitude toward broadcasters. Noting recent deregulation of transportation industries, Fowler said the FCC "remains the last of the New Deal dinosaurs."