FCC's Copps Proposes Public Value Test for License Renewal
Washington - Dec 3, 2010 - In an address to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on Dec. 2, Michael Copps discussed his idea to reform the broadcast licensing method by requiring a public value test. Copps has been vocal in his efforts for broadcasters to fully serve the public interest in everything they do.
In his address, Copps said his plan would restore the original licensing agreement that broadcasters have to the public. He says that broadcasters have free use of the airwaves, and therefore have a responsibility to serve the public interest with the public resource. He says that American journalism is in "its hour of grave peril."
Copps also added that the "old ideals of stewardship were pushed aside and too often demolished; and the speculative fires burned on -- at heavy and destructive cost to journalism, to the businesses themselves, and, most damaging of all, to our democracy."
Copps' plan to renew the commitment to serious news and journalism included several points. Some of the more notable points follow.
Meaningful Commitments to News and Public Affairs Programming
Increasing the human and financial resources going into news would be one way to benchmark progress. Producing more local civic affairs programming would be another. At election time, there should be heightened expectations for debates and issues-oriented programming. Those stations attaining certain benchmarks of progress could qualify for expedited handling of their license renewals. This requirement would have, by the way, important spill-over effects in a media environment where many newspapers are owned by broadcast stations -- although such cross-ownership is something I hope the Commission will put the brakes on.
Requiring information about what programs a station airs allows viewers to judge whether their local station should be subsidized with free spectrum privileges. An enhanced disclosure proceeding has been before the Commission for two years. It may require some minor reworking but there is no reason not to complete this proceeding in the next 90 days.
Political Advertising Disclosure
We the people have a right to know who is bank-rolling the political ads beyond some wholly uninformative and vapidly named group that appears on the bottom of the screen to mask the special interests it really represents.
Local and Independent Programming
The goal here is more localism in our program diet, more local news and information, and a lot less streamed-in homogenization and monotonous nationalized music at the expense of local and regional talent. Homogenized music and entertainment from huge conglomerates constrains creativity, suppresses local talent, and detracts from the great tapestry of our nation’s cultural diversity. We should be working toward a solution wherein a certain percentage of prime-time programming -- I have suggested 25 percent -- is locally or independently-produced. Public Service Announcements should also be more localized and more of them aired in prime-time, too. And PEG channels -- public, educational and government programming -- deserve first-class treatment if we are to have a first-class media.
Every station, as a condition of license, must have a detailed, approved plan to go immediately on-air when disaster strikes. Stations, like government, have a solemn duty to protect the safety of the people. Preferably a station should be always staffed; if there are times when that is not possible, perhaps there are technology tools now that can fill in the gap and make the coverage instantaneous.
Copps believes the FCC should conduct a public value test of every broadcast station at relicensing time, which he believes should be every four years rather than the current eight. He added that if a station passes the public value test, it keeps the license it has earned. If not, the license goes on probation for a year, renewable for an additional year if the licensee demonstrates measurable progress. If the station fails again, give the license to someone who will use it to serve the public interest.
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