FCC Commissioner: ‘I Think the American Media Has a Bad Case of Substance Abuse Right Now’

By Alex Weprin 

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FCC commissioner Michael Copps appeared on BBC World News America last night, and he had some harsh things to say about television news.

In the interview with BBC Washington correspondent Katty Kay, Copps argues that the current state of discussion could be harmful to democracy:

“It’s a pretty serious situation that we’re in. I think American media has a bad case of substance abuse right now. We are not producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue, we’re not producing as much news as we did five years, 10 years, 15 years ago and we have to reverse that trend or I think we are going to be pretty close to denying our citizens the essential news and information that they need to have in order to make intelligent decisions about the future direction of their country.”

Later, Kay asks Copps about the FCC creating a “Public Value Test” to determine whether the content being produced “in the public interest” by broadcasters is really so:

“What we’ve had in recent years is an aberration where we have had no oversight of the media. For years and years we had some public interest guidelines that was part of the quid pro quo between broadcasters and the government for the free use of airwaves that belong to the American people and in return for that free use, and the ability to make a lot of money, they agreed to serve the public interest and that public interest to me right now is crying ‘news and information, news and information, news and information.’”

Essentially, the broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox) are allowed to use the public airwaves for free, in exchange for providing certain levels of programming that are “in the public interest.” Most of those hours are taken up by local news shows, which rely heavily on the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra

A Public Value Test–which would not apply to the cable news channels–would determine what programming is in the public’s interest.

And unlike the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” which is highly unlikely to make any sort of political comeback, there is a chance the PVT could come to fruition.