Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Held in the public trust (television spectrum rights edition)

This story from a few days ago put me in mind of the deaccessioning debate.  Howard University has its own public television station, and it's considering selling off the rights to the spectrum on which it broadcasts ... for "hundreds of millions of dollars."  Can it do so?  Is the spectrum "held in the public trust" the way a painting hanging on the walls of the station is presumed to be?

What interests me most about the story is the way it presents both sides of the issue -- "proponents of a sale argue that it could stave off more painful cuts to the university’s core operations and could bolster financial aid," while those against a sale argue that "Howard has a responsibility not only to its students but also to Washington to keep the station on the air" (sound familiar?) -- and then leaves it there.  Neither side has a trump card to win the debate.  But imagine if one side had a conversation stopper, an "ethical" principle handed down by, say, the AA(PB)D (the Association of American Public Broadcasting Directors) that prohibited consideration of the sale.  Wouldn't that be weird? And wouldn't it be weirder still if the rest of us credited that "ethical" principle as anything more than an expression of the desired outcome of one side of the debate?  Yeah, that would be crazy.