Columbia Journalism School

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"Getting Media Right" by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps

December 03, 2010

By Kelly Boyce '12

To ensure that "all citizens have access to worthy media," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps proposed a public value test for broadcast stations and stressed need for Internet freedom in his address last night at Columbia Journalism School.

"Today the technologies are new, but our democratic challenge is exactly the same – to build an information infrastructure that serves the needs of the people," Copps said. "I frankly don't know of a greater need facing this country right now."

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Following an introduction by Bill Moyers, Copps' speech, titled "Getting Media Right: A Call to Action," focused on a public value test for broadcast stations at relicensing time. Under the proposed plan, a station that doesn't pass the FCC's test would be put on probation for a year and subject to license revocation upon failing the test a second time.

Regarding new media, Copps pushed for the immediate guarantee of Internet access. "Access denied is opportunity denied," he said, adding that non-discrimination and transparency protections would not happen from "strictly private management" and must have a legal foundation.

Copps also emphasized the need to encourage broadband competition and to push for digital literacy. He described his proposed safeguards as "down payments" and necessary courses of action in order for the FCC to truly provide consumer protection.

After the address, Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation (this event's co-sponsor) and contributor to The New Yorker, said he agreed with the larger themes of Copps' speech and urged "aggressive transparency of media advertisement." He also said that both a legislative approach and FCC initiatives could work in bringing about transparency.

Yochai Benckler, professor at Harvard Law School, agreed with Copps' proposals for the Internet. Benckler said, "The net is central to the watchdog function," and also to an informed citizenry. "Creating a competitive open infrastructure for wired and wireless is essential."

Barbara Cochran '68, a professor at the University of Missouri Journalism School, said she shared Copps' concern about in-depth and investigative reporting, but disagreed with most of Copps' proposals.

"Stations don’t need government to tell them to produce news," she said. "It’s good business."

One area she agreed with, however, was "fostering better journalism through increasing funds for public broadcast." Cochran's own set of media policy proposals will be introduced next week.

Copps concluded his remarks: "My challenge to each of you is to act like your democracy depends upon it. Because it does."

Earlier this week, the BBC's Katty Kay interviewed Copps about his stance on American media.

Watch the interview here

Read coverage of this interview and Copps' Columbia Journalism School speech from The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and NPR.

Read more news from the Journalism School

Homepage photo by Rebecca Castillo

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