Saturday, June 02, 2007

I'm Back. How's our democracy doing?

After blogging on for quite some time, I am back to posting on my own. I would like to thank Phil Carter for his generosity - both with allowing me to post and for serving in Iraq.

To start, a free press:

Freedom of the press in Venezuela(from the Economist)

The Price of Free Airwaves(NY Times)

The first tells of Hugo Chavez' decision to shut town a television station that was openly critical of his regime. Instead of shutting it down the old-fashioned way, with troops and arrests, he simply refused it permission to renew its broadcasting license.
Mr Chávez announced that RCTV's broadcasting licence would not be renewed when it expired on May 27th. The government's reasons are that the channel acted as an opposition mouthpiece, and that it backed a short-lived coup against Mr Chávez in April 2002.
The reason this is so terrible is that
Democracy is about much more than just elections—as the left itself has often argued. It is also about political freedoms, the rule of law and checks on executive power. Precious little of this still exists in Venezuela. With television and the press now pretty much under the government's thumb, how will anyone be able to call the next election free and fair?

In the bad old days in Latin America, military dictators simply sent troops to close down obstreperous broadcasters and newspapers. Mr Chávez is more subtle. He has preserved the forms of democracy while gradually, but inexorably, eviscerating it.
Then this editorial in today's NY Times, which says
America lets radio and TV broadcasters use public airwaves worth more than half a trillion dollars for free. In return, we require that broadcasters serve the public interest: devoting at least some airtime for worthy programs that inform voters, support local arts and culture and educate our children — in other words, that aspire to something beyond just minimizing costs and maximizing revenue.

Using the public airwaves is a privilege — a lucrative one — not a right, and I fear the F.C.C. has not done enough to stand up for the public interest.... Every eight years, broadcasters must prove that they have served the public interest in order to get license renewal....

The problem is that.... [d]enials on public interest grounds are extraordinarily rare.
Same technique exactly. The writer makes great points about how important it is that broadcasters serve in the public interest, and has some great ideas on how they could help our democracy, but his method - making license renewal tougher and more frequent (he suggests the license expire every 3 years instead of the current 8 years) - is a recipe for governmental, and thus partisan political, control of our nation's airwaves. Who could doubt in this time of the "Patriot Act" that the current administration would hesitate to use this power against broadcasters? My guess is that it DOES use this power, but wants more. Eight-year renewal periods means a president only gets one crack at a license denial - surely that can't be good, right? Hmmmm...

The writer claims good intentions and lists admirable goals, such as

• ensuring stations show programs on local civic affairs (apart from the nightly news), or set aside airtime for local community groups;

• ensuring they broadcast political conventions, and local as well as national candidate debates;

• In an era when owners may live thousands of miles from their stations, ensuring stations meet with local community leaders and the public to receive feedback;

• and making sure the station’s so-called children’s programming actually, in the view of experts, is educational.

The author says that "all of this information ought to be available on the Web so people can see how their airwaves are being used."

His proposals - making FCC renewal tougher and more frequent - will simply result in what Mr. Chavez has done. That is, government-imposed censorship and control of broadcasters. As for the people seeing how their airwaves are being used, it seems more important to see how our government is being used - and that requires as free and independent a press, including television broadcasters, as we can make it.

Something else I noticed in the Economist article:
Under Venezuelan law [denying a renewal license] is a matter for the regulator and the courts, not the president. Coincidentally, Mr Chávez has just merged the supposedly independent regulator with the Communications Ministry.
Unfortunately for us, the "independent" FCC has been in the hands of the executive branch for some time, and is now filled with loyal Republican appointees who hate the Children's program "Arthur." God help out-and-proud Spongebob Squarepants if they get their hands on him.

Again from the Economist:
in pulling the plug on RCTV Hugo Chávez's leftist government has taken another big step away from democracy.
Haven't we taken enough steps away ourselves in the past six years? I say shortening the renewal time from 8 years to 3 is a really, really bad idea. The price of free airwaves may be high, but the price of government-controlled airwaves is simply unacceptable. Give me liberty or give me death.


Pedro Morgado said...

Here, the Chavéz TV.

Publius said...

Well, the problem, JD, WRT to the FCC and the airwaves is that, unlike the Internet, which is essentially unlimited in scope, the broadcast spectrum is limited. Note how valuable those licenses are; note how easy it is to launch an Internet site.

The unfortunate reality is, that no matter how much we might wish for true free-market principles over the airwaves (TV and radio), the finite nature of the spectra makes regulation inevitable. Otherwise, we'd end up with deep-pocket right-wingers being the only ones broadcasting to the majority of the American people. Which is, come to think of it, kind of what we're seeing nowadays anyway.

Chavez is a whole 'nother breed of cat. He's a communist, authoritarian, totalitarian (take your pick) and what he's doing is from the Kremlin's playbook. Remind me sometime to tell you about my theory regarding oil and overseas adventures. It basically involves going into Mexico and Venezuela rather than somewhere in the Mideast if we want to do about oil. Think about it. Short logistics lines, no shortage of indigenous language speakers, better weather, more receptive populaces, good-looking womean, cold beer and no messy religious issues. Plus the Monroe Doctrine.

I never knew you had your own blog. Now I have another stop to make whilst surfing. I hope you keep it up. You've got a lot to say.

Best to you and family.

this we'll defend said...

Well, thank you Publius.

I think we do need regulation, which is why Congress created the FCC in the first place.

We don't need censorship, which is the aim of the Bush administration and this NY Times Op-Ed. Instead of an attempt to ensure a "fair and balanced" broadcast, the government will do as Chavez did - use the power to deny a license as a way to impose self-censorship. Favorable coverage? Here is your license. Criticism of the Bush administration? Sorry, can't renew.

I think Chavez and our far-right have more in common than we (or they) know. They might be far-left and far-right, but they both oppose true democracy and the rule of law, and think the way to impose their social agenda is to destroy checks and balances.

Thanks again for the kind words.

B. said...

TD, I used to read - and enjoy -- your postings on Intel Dump, and am glad that you're posting again. I like your passion and commitment to democracy and the Constitution in the USA, so I'm sure I'll stop here often.

Publius said...

"I think Chavez and our far-right have more in common than we (or they) know."

Well, oligarchs all tend to be the same. The "ism" doesn't seem all that important. Recall the impassioned debates about who amongst Hitler, Stalin and Mao was the greater monster. Fortunately, would-be oligarchs in this country tend more towards the Mussolini model than towards others. But they still can't get the trains to run on time.

I think we're of a like mind here.