The election of Barack Obama may result in a dramatic shift in the way Washington approaches media policy. President-elect Obama campaigned on a heavily pro-technology platform, and expectations are that his interest in technology issues will mean that the Obama White House will play a much more active role in setting communications and media policy for the nation. In fact, while on the campaign trail, the President-elect expressed interest in overturning the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC's) recent media ownership decision, increasing minority ownership of media outlets, imposing specific public interest obligations on broadcasters and reforming the nation's approach to copyright policy. Structurally, Mr. Obama will appoint at least two, and possibly four, new individuals to the FCC before the end of next year. Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate's term expires in January, and expectations are that Chairman Kevin Martin will depart the Commission sometime early next year. Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein's and Robert McDowell's terms also expire in the near future, and they will either need to be renominated or replaced.
On Capitol Hill, the continued shift to greater Democratic majorities will give the House and Senate Commerce Committees' and Judiciary Committees' Democratic leadership more freedom to work on communications and media policy. Likely targets for legislation include: Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA) reauthorization (along with other copyright measures); media ownership; white spaces; indecency (particularly in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in the Fox fleeting expletives case); excessive violence on television; television advertising (namely drug advertising and "junk food" advertising during children's programming); the fairness doctrine; federal shield law; and an FCC reauthorization bill. Of course, all of the committees will continue to monitor developments in the DTV transition, and legislation could result.
In terms of committee membership, the Senate Commerce Committee will have new leadership next year (expected to be Senator Jay Rockefeller [D-WV]), and House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) is facing a challenge to his post from Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). All four committees will have new rank-and-file members, which will follow in the coming weeks.