Thursday, November 13, 2008

They Are Not The Public's Airwaves

With all of this talk of the Censorship Doctrine (from which the Democrats may be backing away), it seems like no one can talk about the topic without using the phrase "public airwaves".

Maybe it's a fine point, and I'm just picky. But while the public "owns" the air, the public doesn't own everything transmitted over that air.

You can put up a sign in your yard, and unless you obscure someone else's view or something, you don't have to present an opposing view. And yet, you are transmitting, in a very real sense, the images over the exact same air as a radio show uses. It's just that we can see light with our eyes, but radio waves are of too long a wavelength for us to detect with the naked eye.

What the public owns is spectrum. The set of frequencies allowable to radio broadcast is controlled by the FCC, so that radio stations close together don't broadcast on the same frequency, and so bureaucrats have something to do.

But the actual radio waves being propagated are not the property of the government nor the public, but of the broadcaster. You could say they are no longer even the broadcaster's property in any real sense, either, but they certainly don't belong to you and me.

So while I get the idea that idioms don't have to make sense, this is a case where the idiom has the potential to deceive.

Just saying.

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