the essential infrastructure of democracy | Benton Institute for Broadband and Society

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Digital rhythm

Michael copps

Isn’t it curious how many “conservative” politicians are calling for regulation and even for the shattering of internet giants? That’s not what they’re supposed to do to stay true to themselves, is it? Historically, government scrutiny and breach of trust have been anathema to these people, but as we have learned over the past few years, consistency of thought is often left in the distant wake of their crusade for a benefit. partisan. Their goal is to replace the openness of the Internet by limiting freedom of expression and opening the floodgates to even more media disinformation.

But whoever suggests more oversight and less industry consolidation for traditional the media – the giant television and cable industries – and those same politicians and their supporters go to the barricades to brush aside any suspicion of public scrutiny. “Too intrusive”, we are told, unacceptable and unconstitutional. The cake are many in those older traditional media companies who are only too happy to engage in the battle against the new media of the Internet, as long as it distracts attention and action from their own monopolies, which are as threatening to the public interest as anything the “new” guys do

It might be fun if it wasn’t so dangerous. But the sad reality is that America’s news and information ecosystem is eating away at our democracy. And we don’t pay attention, in part because neither the traditional media nor the new media are up to their responsibility to cover the problem. They are not about to discipline themselves. (And how laughable it is to see expensive ads from Facebook saying that it supports updating internet regulations when, of course, they will fight to the death in anything that looks like real internet surveillance. public interest.) The most important point here is that the success of self-reliance depends on a well-informed population. Democracy is based on the belief that an informed electorate is best able to determine the direction of government. But if we, the people, are deprived of the information and facts necessary to make sound judgments, we will make decisions that harm our nation. I will give up on documenting how far we have already traveled the path of regrettable decision-making.

The mainstream media, both traditional and online, are not that different. They are consolidated, corporatized and dedicated to the same objective: net income. To get there, they engulfed competition, discouraged independent entrepreneurship, ignored community needs, diminished factual information, and turned consumers – you and me – into nothing more than products to sell to advertisers.

MuseumTo hell with real journalism! The only game that matters is ratings, subscriber numbers, and user engagement online. Local community journalism is a shell of itself, and the truly independent media that remain (yes, some actually still exist) are fighting an uphill battle to survive. Newsrooms across the country have been closed, downsized or merged. Newsroom jobs are half of what they were 15 years ago. Most of the time, we get “if it bleeds, it leads” news, famous weather forecasters, and sports. Consolidated media spread infotainment at the expense of investigative journalism. Whole “beats”, like the coverage of state houses (where many more laws are passed than in Congress) and local governments, are largely a thing of the past. Partisan opinion is the order of the day. It is the enemy of our nation’s needs.

Some claim that online journalism makes up for the loss of news and information from traditional media. It’s ridiculous. Most of the “news” we read online is produced by newspapers and television. The online giants spread it amid a slew of ads from where they are making barrels of money. But they don’t give the producers of this news anything, or a pittance, for it. To be clear, there is no model for an online information infrastructure. Yes, there are a number of successful online sites out there, but they are few in number and the number of people they employ is hardly a barrier to the growing unemployment in newsrooms.

How do you solve this problem and give the American people the news and information they need? Well, there is no quick fix. I don’t even know if the news and information from the commercial media can be fixed in the current environment. Redress would of course involve antitrust action, as no company in a democratic society should be allowed to wield such power and influence as these giants. The remedy would also involve public interest oversight by agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. At the FCC, we had rules, regulations, and guidelines for broadcasters if they wanted to get a license to use the airwaves that were not theirs, but all of us. Most of them have been abandoned or ignored. They must be (1) brought back and (2) reinforced. But it will take a strong push from the administration and independent agencies to make this happen. Congress must also be involved and enact reforms that not only provide short-term financial support to local media, but also investments to meet the civic information needs of our communities. But with the lobbying power and endless buckets of campaign contributions from big interests, it’s a very steep hill to climb. Administrations and agencies under Republicans and Democrats failed at the task.

Traditional and online media should be treated in a consistent and similar way. This doesn’t mean that everything that applies to one has to apply to the other, but it does mean that we should not treat them differently or choose one to get attention while ignoring. the other. They are joined at the hip. It is a news and information infrastructure that we are talking about.

Part of the solution must involve state-backed media. The amount of money Congress allocates each year to public broadcasting is a drop in the bucket compared to what other democracies invest in theirs. We get a good return on those limited dollars, but public stations across the country need real money to produce real community news. I have often said that public broadcasting is the jewel of broadcasting, but Congress and successive administrations have denied it anything that comes close to its real needs. And of course there must be significant support for in line public media.

My preference is for a mix of actions. Antitrust laws, public policy rules and regulations, and significantly increased support for public media are each an essential part of a successful news and information strategy. Media that reflects the public interest, informs our civic dialogue and increases the chances of successful self-government in a struggling country is, I believe, the most important infrastructure of all.

Michael Copps was Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and Acting Chairman of the FCC from January to June 2009. His years on the Commission were marked by his strong advocacy of the “public interest”; raising awareness of what he calls “non-traditional stakeholders” in FCC decisions, particularly minorities, Native Americans and various communities with disabilities; and actions to stem the tide of what he sees as excessive consolidation in the country’s media and telecommunications industries. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its media and democracy reform initiative. Common Cause is a non-partisan, non-profit rights organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner to empower citizens to have their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable for the public interest. Learn more about Commissioner Copps in The Media Democracy Agenda: Strategy and Legacy of FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps

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