Last week, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that he will be stepping down from the post this March.
The move surprised many pundits, coming in the wake of several of second Bush’s first term cabinet members turning in resignations prior to his second inauguration. Powell, who was appointed by President Bush four years ago, generally resisted strictly regulating communications through legislation, instead preferring to levy heavy fines for perceived offenses.
“Chairman Powell has been a valued member of the administration,” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy told the Associated Press (AP). “He has shown a strong commitment to expand the reach of new communications technologies and services and has helped advance the president’s goal that all Americans should have access to affordable broadband by 2007.”
Thus far, the reaction to the resignation has been mixed. Some students, like Robin Davis, a junior broadcast journalism major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that they were sad to see Powell leave considering he was a black man who had reached a top level position, which was echoed when his father Colin Powell announced he was stepping down as Secretary of State.
“I like the fact that a black man was in such a high position in the FCC, however, I can’t fault him for wanting to spend more time with his family,” Davis said.
But others, like Michael Arceneaux, a junior broadcast journalism major at Howard University, said that they were happy to see Powell leaving because they disagreed with the decisions he made during his tenure.
“I say good riddance,” Arceneaux said. “People for free speech ought to be happy.”
One of the most controversial decisions Powell faced at FCC chairman was the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime performance last year. After receiving reportedly more than 1 million viewer complaints, Powell levied a $550,000 a fine.
“That [expletive] prude,” Arceneaux said. “He acted like Janet’s [breast] went through the TV and bit him.”
According to the AP, FCC fines last year totaled $7.7 million. The year before Powell took office, the year’s fines only reached $48,000. Some have said that Powell and the FCC went overboard with the fines, but others feel like they were necessary given the state of today’s television programs.
“There are quite a few shows with content that I thought should have been monitored more,” Dawn Thompson, a senior sociology major at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Ill., said. “I’m a little disappointed to see him go because I think public television and radio should be censored [so that] all audiences can enjoy them.”
So far, there has been no word from the Bush administration about who it intends to tap to succeed Powell. However, no matter who that person is, it is almost certain that the course they take will not please everyone. The chairman must walk a fine line between protecting America’s decency standards and over censoring society.
“I would prefer the new chairman to be more conservative than the current guidelines,” Letrice Gholson, a sophomore anthropology major at the University of Chicago, said. “I advocate a more conservative stance but in no way do I want it to become a method of suppressing radical thought.”