Why do we need an FCC?

Barron’s editorial page editor Thomas Donlan explains in his latest commentary why a Federal Communications Commission makes little sense in a republic devoted to the notion of free speech.

The Federal Communications Commission deserves its Orwellian name. It’s the name the government of Oceania would have given to a commission intended to restrict and then stamp out communication among citizens.

George Orwell was a bit less subtle in 1984. Oceania’s Ministry of Plenty manages food shortages; the Ministry of Peace is in charge of war; the Ministry of Truth delivers propaganda and rewrites history.

Subtle or not, we should realize how much double-think and black-white are needed to justify the existence of a Federal Communications Commission in a country that says it takes free speech seriously. If “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” what part of “no” did Congress not understand when it empowered the FCC?

The most troubling answer would be that the U.S. doesn’t take free speech seriously. Maybe the First Amendment is an outmoded message from the 18th century. Maybe, like a piece of Romantic poetry, it does not speak convincingly to modern minds.

A better possibility is that modern minds do value communication without the help of government regulators. But the right case has not come along at the right time to let the Supreme Court do its long-overlooked duty to strike down all of the FCC’s asserted power over the content of communications.

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