Barbara Cochran, Should Some of Broadcasters’ Spectrum Be Auctioned Off to Wireless Carriers? Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2011
Two Barbara Cochran Quotes:
1) “First, do no harm.”
2) “An informed public is essential to the effective functioning of democracy.”
Since the late 1980s when the issue of the local TV broadcasters’ misuse of spectrum first came to the fore, the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA; currently called the Radio Television Digital News Association) has endorsed the broadcast industry’s warehousing of underutilized spectrum and the government’s vast giveaway of additional spectrum rights to it beginning in 1996. This has cost the American public hundreds of billions of dollars in foregone revenue, higher prices for mobile broadband services, and the loss of vital new industries. This is what Barbara Cochran, current RTNDA board member and former RTNDA president (1997-2009), calls doing “no harm.” Coming from the longtime leader of an organization that has consistently touted its commitment to journalistic ethics, this Goebbels like affinity for the big lie is enough to make one cry.
The symbolism of this for regulators in the know is awful. Cochran is intimately identified with the leadership of the preeminent organization of TV news editors, who collectively have immense control over the reputation of members of Congress. If the public cannot get the truth out of the news media, and the news media demonstrates its willingness to abuse its information power at the expense of the public, then our democracy—at least in regard to spectrum policy—is in sad shape. Cochran’s statement, “an informed public is essential to the effective functioning of democracy,” says it all, but with exactly the opposite meaning she purports. She has thus delivered a gut punch to the democratic values she claims to espouse. Let the broadcast industry’s PR flaks lobby on behalf of the broadcast industry. When someone so closely identified with media ethics and news power brokers takes on this role, a rubicon signaling intimidation of policymakers and misuse of media power has been crossed.