Policy Changes Needed to Better Support Public Media

Reconsidering the Bargain Between the American Public and Commercial Broadcasters
Published:   June 21, 2012

The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute released a report today with recommendations to reform spectrum policy to better support public media in their efforts to provide quality news, journalism, education, arts, and civic information.

On a day when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also released a report showing that "ending federal funding ...would severely diminish, if not destroy, public broadcasting," this paper presents a vision for using the public's airwaves to provide a 21st century public media. It focuses on the public interest obligations of broadcasters -- and now wireless carriers -- and suggests new ways to compensate the public for free use of the nation's airwaves.
 
In 1927, the United States granted commercial broadcasters free, exclusive licenses to use the nation's airwaves. In exchange for the right to operate on the public airwaves, broadcasters are required to serve the public interest by providing educational programming for children, coverage of local culture and community affairs, electoral campaign and civic information, and more. 
 
In recent years, these broadcasters have often failed to live up to their end of the bargain, underscoring the need to reevaluate the current public service model. The National Association of Broadcasters has recently gone as far as a court challenge to block an FCC decision to require local broadcasters that would make records of their political ad spending available on the internet-data which they are already required to collect, but do not want to disclose online.
 
In addition to a decrease in public interest programming on commercial stations, substantial cuts to newspapers further highlight the importance of supporting public media, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR, PBS, local stations, and multi-platform collaborations. However, these efforts are severely limited by a lack of funding.
 
The paper offers proposals to rework the nation's spectrum policies to achieve the original goals of the public interest obligations. One policy recommendation is to impose a fee on commercial broadcasters, in exchange for the removal of some public interest programming requirements, and use these funds to support public media.
 
To read the full report, Public Media Policy, Spectrum Policy, and Rethinking Public Interest Obligations for the 21st Century, click here.
 
For more information or to schedule an interview with one of New America's experts from the Open Technology Institute, please contact Clara Hogan at 202-596-3368  or hogan@newamerica.net.

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