Posted April 19th, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project
Prepared Remarks by Steven Waldman, Senior Advisor to the Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, before the Free State Institute at the National Press Club
April 16, 2010
I’ve now attended many, many conferences on the future of journalism. And I’m late to the game. There were, it seems, hundreds of conferences before I got into this field. This makes me think there’s an obvious solution to the problems of journalism: Just charge a lot for participation in conferences about the future of journalism. That’ll raise more than enough money.
As fool-proof as this idea seemed to me, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowki, asked that I go a bit further. He asked me to run a project on “the future of media and the information needs of communities.”
The objective of this review is to assess whether all Americans have access to vibrant, diverse sources of news and information that will enable them to enrich their lives, their communities and our democracy.
Let’s first start with the question that seems to be most on your mind: is it even appropriate for the FCC to be looking at the future of media? One analyst said that my inquiry itself would chill free speech.
Let me start with a pedestrian point. What we’re working on right now is a report, not a rulemaking. So our looking at topics like newspaper health in no way means we’ll be suggesting FCC regulating newspapers. On the other hand, to do a report on the health of the news and information media and not mention newspapers would by like doing a study on baseball but refusing to look at pitchers.
Second, there’s an implicit premise that if the FCC were to look at the future of the media, that would represent a dramatic new role for the government. In fact, the government already is very involved in the media industry.
I’m not talking about Ben Franklin getting postal subsidies for the Pennsylvania Gazette 200 years ago – though it is true that the Founders supported massive public subsidies for the newspaper business and it’s also true that the government still spends hundreds of millions of dollars on postal subsidies for periodicals to this day. I’m talking about a large pile of communication policies that has grown over the years, often with bipartisan support.
Among the ways the government affects media are:
· The government in effect restricts how many TV stations a company can own in the country and within a particular market, and whether a company can own a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same town
· The government decided that some of the public’s spectrum should be used to serve local communities, and that in exchange for the right to use its channel, each station must operate in the “public interest” by airing programming that treats the needs and issues of its community.
· It decides how spectrum is auctioned for wireless carriers.
· It required satellite operators to set aside channels for educational or informational programming and allowed municipalities to require that cable TV operators do the same.