The FCC is launching an inquiry into the future of media and
its role in providing news and civic information. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that
rapid technological change has caused financial turmoil that calls into
question whether traditional media will continue to be the go-to provider of
essential news and information.
The commission issued a public notice teeing up some of the
questions it wants answered and launched a web
site to collect some of that input. It is not an official notice of
inquiry, but an "initiative" with a request for public input via a
number of avenues.
The initiative is spearheaded by Beliefnet.com President and
Co-Founder Steven Waldman, who was brought on back in October to head up
assessment of the state of the media and recommendations for preserving it
in a time of technological upheaval.
Among the topics that will be teed up for discussion by
Thursday's (Jan. 21) announcement are "the state of TV, radio, newspaper,
and Internet news and information services; the effectiveness and nature of
public interest obligations in a digital era; and the role of public media
and private sector foundations; and many others."
"We are at a critical juncture in the evolution of American
media," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in announcing the initiative.
"Rapid technological change in the media marketplace has created opportunities
for tremendous innovation. It has also caused financial turmoil for traditional
media, calling into question whether these media outlets will continue to play
their historic role in providing local communities with essential news and
civic information. With this crucial initiative, the FCC commits to fully
understanding the fundamental changes underway in the media marketplace and
examining what impact such changes may have for Commission policies, while
vigorously protecting the First Amendment."
In announcing the initiative, the FCC said the effort
"will not include any effort to control the editorial content of any type
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who first teed up the issue
of an FCC inquiry into the health of journalism, had some cautionary words
about putting too much stock in new media as a substitute for traditional
"The Internet may one day open new avenues to support
the kind of in-depth journalism America needs...But having one's voice widely
heard is something else, as is supporting expensive investigative journalism of
the kind that nourishes democracy's dialogue and holds the powerful accountable,"
he said. "Even with all the promise of new media, we need to remember that
without content, there is nothing to aggregate, and without intelligent debate
on critical issues stemming from insightful journalism, the promise of a smart
phone is short-circuited.
"So far, new media has not replaced what we've lost by
way of traditional media's decline. Most indicators show three-quarters
or more of the news, delivered to the public in all forms, originates from
traditional media--newspapers and broadcast. So we confront a two-pronged
challenge--ensuring that the broadband of the future can support the
information infrastructure which democracy requires and, for the years
immediately ahead, stemming the hemorrhage of contemporary journalism."