* Censorship and 'doing the right thing'
30 Mar 1990
A specific example of what I was flaming about in
'The vicious circle (reply to tseng's message of 3/18)' :
Wednesday (maybe Tuesday) on McNeil/Lehr there was a debate on an
FCC rule that gave preference to minorities buying radio stations. I don't
remember the exact details of the law, but basically it said that when
someone surrenders their television broadcast license a minority owned
firm gets the first chance to buy it, regardless of the amount of money
The fellow arguing the minority case made the following points:
1) The FCC charter allows it to regulate broadcasters so that they operate
'in the public interest'.
2) Minorities should not be denied a chance to access the airwaves.
3) Minority views on the airwaves is good for everyone because it promotes
4) Only 2% of radio & TV stations are owned by minorities and that is racism
and the FCC should do something about it.
The fellow opposed to the FCC decision (granting the license to
a minority interest) was mad because he was unable to buy the station
he wanted even though he had more money. His basic point was:
1) This is reverse discrimination.
I think this is an interesting case because the choice is between
free speech and trying to stop racism via government interference.
What does it mean to allow free speech if the government denies
the economic means to produce that speech? For instance, a newspaper
tax would be an infringement on free speech (as far as I am concerned).
If the government passed a law requiring presidential speeches to be
displayed more prominently at newstands than issues of the Nation,
that would be censorship. It doesn't even matter if the preference is
given to a government publication. It would be the same difference
if the law applied to National Review rather than presidential speeches.
The same issues apply to broadcast media but the problem is more
acute because physics has limited the bandwidth available. Just because
there is a low bound on what can be said at once that doesn't mean that
regulating it is not censorship. The FCC charter impowers it to act
as a censor (witness the seven dirty words rule) 'in the public interest'.
What is the public interest? How do we know? I submit that the public
interest is whatever the public wants to see or hear. If a newstand
doesn't carry a magazine because no one will buy it, that is not censorship.
If the governnment won't let them carry it, that is. The same is true for TV
and radio. When the government refuses to let something be broadcast it
is not in fact operating in the public interest but operating in the
interest of those who want to do 'the right thing'.
Specifically, in the above case, the fellow that didn't get the
license wanted to broadcast more of the same old shlock that there
is already lots of, but it was shlock that people wanted. The black
fellow on the other hand wanted to broadcast his ideas to people that didn't
want to hear them (racists whites) because that would be good for them.
How he would get them to listen I don't know. The government is interfering
so that people can only hear officialy approved ideas (okay, okay, it's
interfering only to the extent that people can't hear as much of the
unapproved ideas as they want, but is the they same difference).
Addressing the points above:
1) This is true and unfortunate. The charter should be changed so that
the FCC has no control over content. Frequencies should be allocated
based purely upon highest bid. Yes, personally, I'll miss KPFT, KTRU,
& KUHF. But I'm being subsidized now by other unwilling people and
that isn't fair.
2) True, but they are not denied that chance. To say that they can't have
everything they want is not the same as being denied the chance.
3) This is the crux of the issue. It is true that government sponsored
information/propoganda can change opinions, but the cost is denying
someone else the chace to have their opinion heard.
4) This does not demonstrate racism. It only demonstrates that blacks
are poor. For that matter, does black ownership imply black
programming anyway? I expect a black TV station to program white
oriented shows if that makes them more money.
1) True, but not particularly relevant.
Conclusion: Attempts to correct racism by government intervention
inevitably lead to denial of liberty and not just economic liberty but
basic liberties like free speech.