New commish: TV or no TV

WASHINGTON — Washington is filled with highbrow intellectuals who brag about not subscribing to cable, but Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a new voting member of the Federal Communications Commission, takes it one step further: He does not even own a television set.

Furchtgott-Roth’s refusal to join the other 98% of the nation that owns at least one set is even more startling since he is the father of five. “I’ve got five children. And we have no shortage of live entertainment in our house,” he explained in his first meeting with reporters, which, in fact, was his first personal press conference ever.

Broadcasters have nothing to worry about though. Furchtgott-Roth, 40, is the former chief economist for the House Commerce Committee. He is a Republican who is concerned about efforts to limit regulate the content of TV programming.

Delicate balance

“There is a very delicate balance between concerns about the content of programming on one hand and preserving the principle of the First Amendment on the other,” said Furchtgott-Roth.

Like his fellow Republican commissioner Michael Powell, Furchgott-Roth expressed a distaste for a proposed inquiry by the FCC into liquor advertising on television — suggesting it’s up to Congress to take the lead. “Past restrictions on products, as in the case of tobacco, have been made by Congress,” said Furchtgott-Roth. “We just have to see what the proper role of the commission is on this.”

In addition, Furchtgott-Roth said he wants to take a close look before putting any additional public-interest obligations on the broadcasting industry. “I think the burden of proof is on the government when it comes to expanding the public-interest obligations,” he said.

Despite several questions on the issue, Furchtgott-Roth refused to give a specific reason for his TV-less household. “When you have five kids screaming around your house, making conscious decisions like that is just not possible,” said Furchtgott-Roth.

Of course, as an FCC commissioner, Furchtgott-Roth will be expected to make hundreds of decisions during the next year with a direct impact on all aspects of the nation’s telecommunications industries. But then he does have a TV in his office.

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