FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has been making noises again about the inadequacies of American Journalism, and the need for a “public value test” to save it from “its hour of grave peril.” This follows the same line taken by self-appointed critics of cable news like Jon Stewart. But if Stewart mocks cable news, Copps is playing with fire by hinting at using government regulation to control the content of what news organizations broadcast.
It is likely that over the next ten years, the network news will cease to exist entirely. CNN is going through the stages of a prolonged death spiral. Local affiliates are cutting back on TV news. Copps’ public comments on the BBC indicate that he will pressure television stations to run news programs. According to Copps, the stations use airwaves that belong to the American people and are therefore obligated to serve the public interest.
But the television stations are already serving the interests of the American people by broadcasting the programming that they want to see. The reason that television stations are cutting back on the news, is because it’s unprofitable. If the American people really wanted their airwaves to be used for more news, then that wouldn’t be the case. In a free country, the public’s interest determines what they want to see. But in a nanny state, bureaucrats like Copps determine what is in the public’s interest.
And how does he make that determination?
“What we’ve had in recent years is an aberration where we have had no oversight of the media. For years and years we had some public interest guidelines that was part of the quid pro quo between broadcasters and the government for the free use of airwaves that belong to the American people and in return for that free use, and the ability to make a lot of money, they agreed to serve the public interest and that public interest to me right now is crying ‘news and information, news and information, news and information.’“
Here we have the gap between the public’s interest and the public interest. The public’s interest is determined by its viewing habits. But the public interest is determined by bureaucrats like Copps, (who incidentally takes a lot of money from the American taxpayer to do it), who goes not by what the public wants– but what he decides it needs. Where the public’s interest is democratic, Copps’ ‘public interest’ is a construct that really means his own whim and will. The will of an unelected official who believes there’s an urgent need to force local stations to broadcast propaganda to help his party’s messaging. And if they refuse to do it, their licenses will be taken away and given to stations that will. But is Copps really serving the public interest, or his own?
That in a nutshell is why we don’t have a free country, because in a showdown between democracy and bureaucracy– bureaucrats like Copps always win.