Thierer Participates in FCC Workshop on Public Interest Regulation
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Federal Communications Commission should re-evaluate
public interest regulation in light of changes and innovations
in the media industry, stated PFF President Adam Thierer in
presented today at a FCC workshop "Serving the Public
Interest in the Digital Era." Expanding existing public
interest regulations to other media platforms would raise
constitutional concerns and be an insurmountable task
considering the size and scope of media today.
In his testimony,
Thierer addresses the ambiguity of public interest mandates.
"Simply put, the public interest standard is not really a
'standard' at all since it has no fixed meaning; the definition
of the phrase has shifted with the political winds to suit the
whims of those in power at any given time." Moreover, the
public has more media choices than every before, including
educational and public affairs programming, on a variety of
platforms. Thierer stated that the choice of what media to
consume "must be respected by government officials."
He continued, "Just because the American people sometimes
make choices that policymakers find distasteful, it does not
mean that citizens don't have good choices at their
Thierer also identified free speech concerns if public
interest regulations were expanded to new media platforms. The
scarcity rationale used as a reason for the imposition of public
interest obligations on broadcast platforms can no longer be
justified in an age of media abundance. Indeed, courts have
recently struck down efforts by policymakers to expand
broadcast-like regulations for new media platforms. Thierer
advised that, "instead of first looking to expand
regulation, we should use this as an opportunity to return to
first principles—especially in light of the dubious
constitutionality of the FCC's existing public interest
Thierer also questioned the practicality of expanding public
interest mandates beyond broadcast media. The sheer size of the
media marketplace, where content is available across multiple
platforms, would make this unattainable. Policymakers would also
be forced to define what constitutes a media entity or
journalist in today's media environment. "There may well be
rational ways to make cuts along these lines, but they are all
almost certainly unconstitutional," he stated.
"Government preferences among speakers or classes of
speakers are prior restraints, constitutional sins of the
Thierer also warned of imposing new public interest
requirements on struggling traditional media operators as such
regulation could further constrain their ability to compete in
the media marketplace.
"In a world in which scarcity has been overthrown by
abundance," Thierer concluded, "we should strike the
balance in favor of greater media freedom and stronger First
Amendment protections for all speech however it is
Thierer's complete written testimony is available on the PFF
Thierer is available for further comment. Please contact Amy
Smorodin at email@example.com.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.