In a speech given last week, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called for a new regime to review the public interest performance of broadcasters – suggesting that license renewal become a more rigorous exercise for radio and television operators. In his address called "Getting Media Right, A Call to Action", given to the Columbia University School of Journalism, Copps specifically suggested a "Public Value Test" for broadcasters when they file their license renewals. If the broadcaster passes the test, the broadcaster would get a renewal. If the broadcaster did not pass – if it does not show that it has "earned" the right to "use the people’s airways" – then the licensee would get a one year probation period to prove that it should keep its license. If it does not improve, then the license would be taken and given to "someone who will use it to serve the public interest."
So what would this Public Value Test look like? The Commissioner suggested that the following factors would be reviewed:
- A Meaningful Commitment to News and Public Affairs Programming – an increased commitment to news, local public affairs, election debates and issues oriented programming would be reviewed according to some quantitative benchmarks.
- Enhanced Disclosure – requiring broadcasters to provide more information about their programming performance, on the Internet, as the Commissioner believes that information in the public file is "laughable", and also requiring that the FCC review that information at renewal time
- Political Advertising Disclosure – requiring more information about the sponsors of political ads
- Reflecting Diversity – looking to increase the gender, ethnic and racial ownership of broadcast stations
- Community Discovery – requiring that broadcasters be required to, in some formal way, communicate with their communities to determine local programming needs and the interests of various groups within a station’s community
- Local and independent programming – requiring that broadcasters provide more local and independent programming instead of "homogenized music and entertainment from huge conglomerates – the Commissioner suggesting 25% of local programming being dedicated to local and independent programs. More local PSAs too.
- Public Safety – requiring that all broadcasters have a plan to address emergencies and be either staffed during all hours of operation or be otherwise able to respond immediately to any local emergency.
What’s likely to happen to these proposals?