During the presidential campaign, Republican operatives stirred up the base by suggesting that Barack Obama would unplug Fox News and outlaw conservative talk radio if he got elected. Of course, no president has the power to put a sock in Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly, but today Camp Obama did make one change at the FCC, the federal body that oversees and regulates television and radio: Obama picked an old Harvard Law School chum, Julius Genachowski, as the new boss of the agency.
We won’t know for sure what sort of policies Genachowski, a former senior exec in Barry Diller’s InterActive Corp., will pursue until he gets grilled by Senators in his confirmation hearings. The only major policy shift announced so far has been a request to Congress to delay the switch to digital broadcasting set for Feb. 17 because Obama feels the transition was underfunded (judging by the rinky-dink quality of those snoozy late-night TV spots explaining the program, Obama is right). But it’s a pretty safe bet lots more change is coming to the airwaves after Jan. 20th. Although Obama has talked about his concerns as a father of two small daughters, he’s also said in interviews that he doesn’t believe the federal government should be in the business of policing the pop culture. That’s a major philosophical difference from the Bush administration, which launched an all-out offensive on obscenity on TV and radio over the past eight years, raising fines so high they pushed Howard Stern into digital radio and made Super Bowl XXXVIII the most expensive peep show in history (when the FCC fined CBS a record $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction”).
One thing Hollywood is hoping is on top of Genachowski to-do list: Finally coming up with an FCC-approved definition of obscenity — a list of words, pencil-drawn sketches, anything — so that the networks don’t have to continue guessing on their own. We’ll be keeping an eye on the confirmation hearings in case Genachowski brings any diagrams. –Benjamin Svetkey