A Conversation On the Future of the Media: Is the Public Interest Bargain Dying? – The New America Foundation hosted a conversation in response to the FCC staff report on “The Information Needs of Communities” featuring senior news analyst Ted Koppel, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, and NAF’s own president Steve Coll on June 15, 2011. All three agreed with the staff report’s conclusion that American news coverage is insufficient in many ways, particularly in local coverage, and each criticized the report for its lack of solutions.
Copps’s opening comments railed against the past 30 years of media deregulation and warned that the introduction of digital media would not solve any problems without careful policy guidance to encourage substantive reporting. An informed public, Copps said, is as crucial to a well-functioning democracy now as it was for the founders. He urged the FCC to pursue its statutory mandate by implementing a more stringent relicensing process to remind media companies that a broadcasting license is a privilege, not a right. This, Copps argued, is the most effective tool the FCC has for gaining leverage over broadcasters and encouraging more intensive and substantial news reporting.
Ted Koppel agreed, and recalled how the news business’s shift in the late-60’s from a public service to a profit center began the decline of network investments in hard-hitting news, back when the network heads annually testified before Congress to show how their news services justified the enormous profits they reaped from the public airwaves. Since then, Koppel observed the statutorily-mandated public interest bargain fade from memory, so much so that in the last 30 years, not one single license has been refused for renewal on public service grounds. All three panelists agreed that the FCC should shore up its relicensing process and start holding the networks accountable once again for their public service commitment to this nation if they want to continue dominating the public airwaves.