FCC Chief Steps Down
For one thing, he opposed what many perceive to be the continuing decline of moral values in television and radio programming, which was brought into national focus by Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. CBS was fined $550,000 for that incident, and Viacom (CBS's parent company) was fined a whopping $3.5 million to settle charges of indecency against Howard Stern. All told, FCC fines for indecent programming exceeded $7.7 million last year, up from $48,000 the year before Powell became chairman.
On the other hand, Powell proposed sweeping deregulation of media ownership, which he claimed would accelerate the development of new communication technologies such as Internet telephony. However, it would also allow fewer corporations to own more outlets, encouraging a monopoly that could be considered far more obscene—and sinister—than a briefly bared breast or even Stern's crude humor. After all, if most media outlets are owned by only a few corporations, consumers will have less access to a variety of viewpoints, making it more difficult to reach informed conclusions about our society and culture. Not only that, the types of available entertainment programming will be more restricted. Fortunately for consumers, most of these changes were overturned in the face of political and public opposition.
The big question now is who will replace Powell when he departs in March. The frontrunner seems to be Kevin Martin, an FCC commissioner with strong ties to the Bush White House who actually voted to block part of Powell's deregulation efforts. Other likely candidates include Rebecca Klein, former head of the Texas Public Utility Commission; Pat Wood, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Michael Gallagher, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Janice Obouchowski, former head of the NTIA and a telecommunications consultant who worked with G.W. Bush's father; and Earl Comstock, former aide to Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Whoever ends up in that chair will likely continue Powell's push to deregulate the telecommunications and broadcast industries as well as enforce strict anti-indecency rules, leaving it up to concerned citizens and politicians to oppose the trend toward turning entire media landscape into a homogenized, single-viewpoint desert in which only a few megacorporations control all the water and consumers are left high and dry.