It didn’t take long for senators to tell Julius Genachowski, President Obama’s choice to head the Federal Communications Commission, that they were upset both with the state of TV programming and the FCC’s oversight of the broadcasting industry.
Seconds into Mr. Genachowkii’s confirmation hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday morning, both its chairman and ranking Republican issued warnings that things need to change.
"Fix the agency or we will fix it for you," said committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V.
He called the nomination "mammothly important" and accused the FCC of too often acting at the behest of the bottom lines of special interests, rather than regulating them. "Show that it is not battered beyond repair."
He also questioned the amount of violent and indecent program on television.
"Show us that parents can have confidence to view programming in their homes without their children being exposed to violent and indecent content," he said.
Ranking Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she was concerned about trends in TV programming and about what her children are seeing. "I do think there is a role to play in enforcing indecency," she said. "I am amazed to see what is on the networks."
Genachowski offered his first public comments since being nominated by President Obama, a friend from their Harvard Law School days together.
He made clear he intended to pursue indecency enforcement.
"I am a parent who is also concerned about people see on TV," he said. "The FCC’s job is to enforce the law, and it will enforce the law around indecency."
Senators also pressed Genachowki on FCC media ownership — some urging easing but most concerned about consolidation.
"Excessive consolidation needs to be paid attention to, but we don’t want to ignore changes in the marketplace," he said.
Genachowski said he didn’t support any attempt to reintroduce the fairness doctrine, a policy that once required stations to provide equal time for alternative viewpoints.
Before he left for the day, the senators gave him some written questions to answer by 6 p.m. ET. A vote by the committee is expected within the next week; if approved, his confirmation will go to the Senate floor. That vote is expected before the Fourth of July.
Also questioned on Tuesday was Robert McDowell, a Republican, who is up for another term on the FCC.
Genachowski was chief counselor at the FCC when Reed Hundt was chairman, and subsequently a senior executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp. After leaving IAC, he was co-founder and managing director or LaunchBox Digital and Rock Creek Ventures.
He also has dealt with children’s issues as a board member of Common Sense Media and he was a founding partner of New Resource Bank, a San Francisco bank focusing on green issues.
Tapped to head the FCC since shortly after the November election, the nomination has been on hold pending the DTV transition.
Genachowski and Obama have known each other since their Harvard Law School days together and Genachowski was the chief drafter of the Obama campaign’s Technology and Innovation Plan.