FCC Calls on Congress to Spend More Money to Push PBS-Style Government-Sponsored Journalism Onto Internet to Compete With Privately Funded Internet Journalism
The plan, submitted to Congress on March 15, envisions so-called Internet-based public media as the 21st century successor to the local public broadcasting television and radio stations of today. It says this successor will play a “vital and unique role” in American democracy as the government seeks to build a “healthy and thriving media ecosystem.”
“[P]ublic media will play a critical role in the development of a healthy and thriving media ecosystem,” the FCC plan states. “Public media plays a vital and unique role in our democracy, informing individuals and leading our public conversation as well as building cohesion and participation in our communities.”
The current public broadcasting system, the FCC explains, is at a “crossroads” as sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia make local public broadcasting obsolete.
“Public media has historically focused on broadcasting,” the plan says. “Today, public media is at a crossroads. That is why public media must continue expanding beyond its original broadcast-based mission to form the core of a broader new public media network that better serves the new, multi-platform information needs of America.”
To allow public media to be the “core” for America’s “multi-platform information needs,” more federal (taxpayer) funding will be required.
“To achieve these important expansions, public media will require additional funding,” states the FCC report.
The FCC then recommends that Congress consider increasing funding to public media to assist with the movement from small, local stations to Internet-based networks. One avenue it directly endorses is for current public broadcasting stations to auction off their television spectrum, with the proceeds from those auctions being redirected back to the local public broadcasters themselves.
“As one avenue for the funding of online content, Congress should consider creating a trust fund for digital public media that is endowed by the revenues from a voluntary auction of spectrum licensed to public television,” reads the report.
“Congress should consider dedicating all the proceeds from the auctioned spectrum contributed by public broadcasters to endow a trust fund for the production, distribution, and archiving of public media.”
While it calls for new, congressionally created sources of funding, the FCC’s Broadband Plan does not explain what differentiates public broadcasting, which is confined to local areas, with Internet-based public media, which would not be so confined. It does, however, frequently cite the official comment of Rutgers University Law Professor Ellen Goodman, who is also working on the FCC’s Future of Media Project.
Professor Goodman’s comment, submitted to the FCC during the drafting phase of the National Broadband Plan, explains that the public media envisioned by the FCC would allow the government to achieve the goal of an Internet environment where content creation is determined not by supply-and-demand market forces, but by local concerns following three principles: creation, curation, and connection.
“The ‘why’ of universal, fast, and reliable broadband is to connect people to information that improves their lives and those of others – communication that is essential to performing the functions of democratic citizenship,” the comment reads. “Linking individuals and communities to relevant information – the ‘how’ of broadband policy – requires robust, flexible, and innovative networks.”
Goodman continues: “It also requires the creation of moving narratives, accountability reporting, and a safe space to engage publics respectfully in issues of relevance to them; the curation of information in ways that make it accessible, understandable, and visible; and agents that intentionally connect individuals to each other, to community institutions, to information that they need, and to stories that inspire.”
Current local, public broadcasting has been unable to accomplish these goals because there was no way to get content produced by one local public access station broadcast nationwide. The Internet would allow that to happen, if the government expanded public broadcasting into public media.
“Broadband technology now allows public media to achieve the vision that, for the past 60 years, has been largely aspirational,” reads Goodman’s comment. “The Federal government has invested well over $10 billion in the public broadcasting system. States have invested billions more. There is now an opportunity to leverage that public investment in public service broadcasting to create public service broadband.”
“A system of digital public media – or more accurately, cooperative systems of public media – can work with intention to deploy broadband content to forge connected communities,” says the comment.
The “functions” of a public media system would be to use the power of the Internet to give a voice to things that had not survived the rigors of the media marketplace, where the demands of customers drive content creation. It would also serve as curator, focusing on what information to highlight, and as a connector of media producers who have not been able to find a broad enough audience to make it in the marketplace.
Goodman further stated: “These functions are (1) to create content – particularly narratives in the form of journalism, long-form documentaries, oral histories, and cultural exploration – that markets will not and that is important to individual and social flourishing; (2) to curate content, serving as both a filter to reduce information overload and a megaphone to give voice to the unheard; and (3) to connect individuals to information and to each other in service of important public purposes.”