FCC Commissioner Copps Proposes ‘Public Values Test’

Published May 31, 2016

Michael J. Copps, one of five members of the Federal Communications Commission, claims the FCC exists as “an honest-to-goodness consumer protection agency” and part of its mandate is to ensure “all citizens have access to worthy media, to the news and information our democratic dialogue requires.”

Copps’ remarks concluded a speech in which he outlined his “Public Values Test” for media regulation by the FCC. According to Copps, each of the seven values he espoused is intended to ensure “the good and noble cause of sustaining American journalism in what I consider its hour of grave peril.”

Copps declared FCC adoption of his plan would provide an antidote to the current state of affairs by requiring more diversity of broadcast and print media ownership; increased disclosure of information about stations’ programming and funding for political advertising; more local news, public affairs, and culture programming; and instantaneous coverage of local emergencies.

If his plan is adopted, said Copps, failure to meet his test values could result in FCC nonrenewal of licenses. The commissioner also stated relicensing reviews should be conducted by the FCC every four years rather than the current schedule of every eight years.

In a letter to Copps following the speech, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated, “I hope … that you do not mean to suggest that it is the job of the federal government, through the [FCC], to determine the content that is available for Americans to consume.”

‘Parallel Media Universe’

In his speech, delivered December 2 at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City, Copps  condemned the current media environment: “Arguments rage over the right to secretly manage and prioritize content and to favor the affluent few at the expense of the many. Increasingly, the private interests who design and control our 21st century information infrastructure resemble those who seized the master switch of the last century’s communications networks.”

Copps said nearly 35,000 workers have left the journalism industry since 2007, newspapers have failed throughout the country, and the majority of online news content derives from traditional broadcast and print sources employing fewer reporters and providing dwindling coverage of local news. “It is on this shrinking diet of news and information that we are forced to rely to guide America through troubled waters,” he declared

“Commissioner Copps is fretting about and railing against a parallel media universe, a fantastical and treacherous place that bears no resemblance to the media universe which we currently enjoy,” said Seton Motley, president of Less Government, an organization dedicated to decreasing the size of government while protecting the First Amendment from governmental abuses, and editor-in-chief of StopNetRegulation.org, an organization opposed to imposition of network neutrality regulations on the Internet.

“Has the Commissioner not yet been introduced to cable and satellite television, or the World Wide Web?” Motley asked. “To gnaw one’s nails about media consolidation and a dearth of news and information when we have literally millions of journalistic sources at our disposal truly displays a disconnect from what’s happening in the real world.”

‘Down Payment on Media Democracy’

“These few criteria for a Public Values Test are neither excessive nor onerous,” Copps told his audience, adding, “but they would get us back to the original licensing bargain between broadcasters and the people: In return for free use of airwaves that belong exclusively to the people, licensees agree to serve the public interest as good stewards of a precious national resource.”

Copps continued, “Importantly, these proposals are for the most part actions the FCC can take on its own authority. We can make this down payment on media democracy now,” he said.

“More and more, it becomes apparent that the Federal Communications Commission is a solution running around looking for a problem,” said Motley. “It may very well be time to mothball the entire agency—and send it into an over-deserved retirement.”

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Infotech & Telecom News.

Internet Resources:

“Getting Media Right: A Call to Action,” FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps’ speech delivered December 2, 2010 at the Columbia University School of Journalism, New York City: http://heartland.org/infotech-news.org/article/28939/Getting_Media_Right_A_Call_to_Action.html