EDITORIAL: Uncle Sam’s remote control

Federal crackdown on television commercials goes too far

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Nobody likes overly loud television commercials. Dramatic tension goes out the window when a scene fades to black only to be replaced by the unrestrained blare of a loudmouth hawking used cars or the latest cleaning product. Those troubled by the commotion will be pleased to learn that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday implemented rules designed to impose peace and tranquillity. The government is taking a step too far into the nation’s living rooms.

Two years ago, Congress asked the FCC to set standards that would crack down on annoying ads. The agency decided it would do so by holding broadcast, cable and satellite television providers liable for the playback of commercials at a volume louder than other TV programming. So, instead of merely hitting the mute button to deal with obnoxious sales pitches, viewers now can make a federal case out of it by lodging a “loud commercial” complaint with the FCC.

In legislating a solution to something that is just a minor irritant, government is creating a new set of problems. As Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, a Republican, warned when the rules were adopted, cable and satellite services are more in the business of distributing material than creating it. In many cases, they have little control over the commercials supplied by the networks that produce the television shows, yet they could be held liable for the programmer’s mistake. Fairness becomes a secondary concern when politicians set out to curry favor with constituents by legislating balms to soothe anything that might get on their nerves.

What’s most troubling is that Congress and the FCC are inviting future intrusion. A growing number of Americans have embraced online streaming video services such as Netflix, YouTube and Hulu, which are beyond Uncle Sam’s regulatory grasp — for now. A public accustomed to having the government tone down ads might not think twice about having the feds step in and start regulating the Internet.

Infringements on liberty always start small. Bans on smoking once were limited to portions of restaurants, then entire restaurants. Now such ordinances expand to cover nearly every public space. New York City last year prohibited lighting up in parks, on beaches and even in outdoor areas such as Times Square. Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine and Oregon have reached into private automobiles, banning drivers from puffing away under certain circumstances.

The government has a natural tendency toward mission creep. Once a bureaucrat is allowed to step into the home to prevent an annoyance, he’s not going to leave. That’s all the more reason to slam the door when Uncle Sam invites himself into the living room in the name of making things quieter.

The Washington Times

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