Democratic vs. Republican Presidents Part 1: Communications Policy

Janet Jackson's FCC "Nipplegate" moment

Janet Jackson’s FCC “Nipplegate” moment

Under the U.S. Constitution, presidents have certain limited powers, but in the 21st Century, the president also controls a huge machinery of government. It’s almost impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of all the things presidents exercise authority over, but we’ve started such a list. We’ll be doing a series, with each post describing one or more categories where presidents are heavily involved. Please take a look at the series, and you will see the difference between having a Republican and a Democrat in the White House, and why the 2016 elections are therefore so crucial:

Communications

Presidents get to appoint a majority of the Federal Communications Commission‘s five commissioners. Moreover, a number of high-level FCC staffers and political appointees come in with a new administration. We’ve seen huge differences in FCC actions and policies under Republican versus Democratic control. For example, Ronald Reagan‘s FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine, a move that many people point to as unleashing an avalanche of unanswered right wing media on America. Likewise, a Republican-controlled FCC rarely if ever meets a media mega-merger that it dislikes.

On the other hand, under Democratic administrations, the Democratic-majority FCC under President Obama has approved real net neutrality, and has rejected or expressed disapproval of some proposed mergers, such as Comcast-Time Warner Cable, which would have created a giant monopoly cable company. Finally, the Republican-controlled FCC under George W. Bush, apparently kowtowing to the GOP’s religious conservative base, had a Taliban-style record on “indecency,” including the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” incident.

UPDATE 10/23/15: Proving the point of this post, the FCC just voted to cap the exorbitant phone rates that telephone companies charge to jail and prison inmates who make outside calls, often to their families. The FCC vote was 3-2, with the Democratic commissioners and chairman voting in favor of the caps, and the two Republican commissioners voting against. The vote demonstrates the near-certainty that, under a Republican president with a Republican-majority FCC, these rate caps never would have passed.

Photo by Mike Licht, used under Creative Commons license. http://is.gd/PhchDE

 

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