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Congressman Walden calls for lighter regulation to level field with big tech

While traditional broadcasters in the US have historically been confronted with more, and more rigorous, regulation than emerging internet and new media giants, the solution should lie more on the side of reducing regulation on traditional player rather than imposing new regulations on the likes of Facebook and Google, according to Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon, head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with oversight over broadcasting relocation costs.

Greg Walden

Speaking at the NAB Show in Las Vegas ahead of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s appearance before his committee this week, Walden said that his preference would be for a lifting of some of the regulatory burden currently placed on broadcasters rather than new regulation on big tech that could stifle innovation.

Walden said the current scandal around Facebook’s protection of consumer data or lack thereof was a “serious matter”, but added that the powers already exercised by the Federal Trade Commission could help address some of the concerns raised.

Walden said Zuckerburg was “an incredible innovator” but did concede that Silicon Valley companies had “never been regulated”. However, he said, to level the playing field with broadcasters it would be preferable to clean up and remove regulations that are now out of date or unnecessary, rather than to introduce a much heavier regulatory regime for big tech companies.

“I am more on the light touch regulation side – to clean out the underbrush of legacy regulation,” he said.

Walden, who had a background in local broadcasting before entering politics, said that it is important for broadcasters “not to presume” that legislators had a clear understanding of the broadcast business or new media platforms.

He said that, currently, Facebook and other internet companies do not face the same public service duties as those imposed on broadcasters, and added that it was important for tech companies to take responsibility to ensure that properly sourced news journalism is prominent.

Walden said that “what is lacking on the internet is any editor” to ensure that news if fact-checked, and added that this could have an impact on the health of democracy.