Now It’s a ‘Wasted Vast Land’

Commissioner does Newt Minow one better in the FCC’s investigation of the media industry

Last Updated: March 4, 2010 @ 12:16 PM

Is the "vast wasteland" now "a wasted vast land"?

Alluding to the famous warnings about the future by another Federal Communications Commission chairman in the 1960s, current FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps delivered a stinging critique of the media industry on Thursday.
Copps told an FCC workshop that the commission had “dropped the ball” for three decades in making sure that stations continue serving the public interest after they are sold.
He said “horrendous” policy decisions have created “a media free-fall” that makes it easier and easier for stations to ignore local issues and harder for their competitors who wanted to devote time to those issues to compete.
The workshop is part of an investigation the FCC is undertaking on regulatory changes that may be needed to keep the media functioning as a vital source of civic information.

“’Play the game or get voted off the island’” became the mantra of this dangerous game of Media Survival,” said Copps, suggesting the result was to create an incentive for greater profits at the expense of journalism.
He called watchdog journalism “an endangered species.”
“More often than not, infotainment subs for the news people really need,” he said.
And he called on the FCC to reinvigorate its commitment to seeing broadcasters meet their public-interest obligations.
Also at the workshop, Princeton University professor Paul Starr had a different warning. He said changes in media and technology are creating problems in the public discourse, especially at the local level.
Local officials’ political accountability may be vanishing as financial woes hurt newspapers and other local news sites, he said.

He also said technology may be making Americans less informed, not more, because as consumers go to targeted websites instead of the front page of newspapers, “incidental learning” disappears.