Saturday, September 5, 2009

If for a moment you thought the Obama administration was going to sit there placidly while some on talk radio were so bold as to criticize its actions, think again, because here comes Mark Lloyd, the new diversity officer of the Federal Communications Commission and a man with a mission.

It’s not a pretty mission, not if you value free speech, but it is a mission made clear by Mr. Lloyd’s own words.

There he was in 2008, participating in a conference on “media reform,” telling us what a wonderful leader Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was and wincing at an unpleasantness the dictator had to deal with, the uppity owners of media, people who had some objections in mind.

He spoke of Mr. Chavez’s “incredible revolution, a democratic revolution,” and of the “property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela” who “rebelled” and who “worked to oust him.” Still, said Mr. Lloyd, Mr. Chavez “came back with another revolution, and then … began to take very seriously the media in his country.”

Dang those property owners. Aren’t they a pain? Mr. Lloyd seems to think they are a pain in this country, too, at least those who own radio stations. As much becomes clear when you read a report he and some others produced for a left-wing think tank that said conservatives dominate talk radio, not because they are more popular than liberals, as the evidence clearly shows, but because most station owners are white men who apparently heed their monolithic ideology more than the marketplace and their pocketbooks.

The solution to this supposed problem? The report advised limiting how many stations can be owned, which means you would take property away from some people. You would get a lot tougher on renewing licenses of those who don’t play the game according to profit-eroding, make-local-groups-happy rules, and you would assess enormous fees to give money to public radio if there was insufficient saluting of all this. It adds up to go broke or go broke.

Do you maybe begin to see that Mr. Lloyd is not as distant as you might like from Mr. Chavez, who has been happily revoking radio licenses of the politically non-compliant in his country? To Mr. Lloyd, as he wrote in a 2006 book quoted in an Internet article, the whole free speech thing is at any rate a bit of a fraud meant to serve global corporations and obstruct policies of the kind our society needs.

Maybe you think all this is OK because the airwaves are publicly owned and talk radio is pretty one-sided, but the fact of limited airwaves should never have been allowed to override the First Amendment’s guarantees in the first place, and we are now in an age of endless voices on radio, on the Internet, on cable TV, on satellite radio, in magazines, newspapers and more.

As for the one-sidedness, free means free. It means you can say what you want. And, at any rate, talk radio is little more than one of a few conservative lifeboats in a sea of media and academic leftism.

John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher, explained quite a while back one reason why free speech is important — that it is always possible that some further insight, some new understanding, some crucial information, some illuminating piece of wisdom will be kept from us if we shut people up. And as the American journalist Walter Lippmann once said, a free press is the only system that gives truth a chance to emerge.

Chavez-style social democrats don’t care about all of that, of course; they think they have the whole truth already and don’t want to be bothered by opponents they’re convinced have nothing but bad motives.

Shudder, friends. The administration would not have put Mr. Lloyd in his current job if it did not subscribe to his objectives.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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