The future of democracy in the United States depends upon a well-informed citizenry, which is in peril due to a news media that is “on life support” and a lack of Web access, Internet adoption and online “media literacy,” FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said last week during a commission-sponsored forum in Washington, D.C.
Speaking at the Non-Commercial/Public Media Workshop April 30, Copps told his audience that the nation’s Founding Fathers, who faced a similar challenge, knew an informed citizenry would be key to successfully building and keeping a democracy across the continent. “They thought about it, and then they acted, deciding that the second heaviest expenditure of their new government would be the provision of postal subsidies to get newspapers out to the people,” he said in prepared remarks.
According to the commissioner, “doing something about the challenged state of media and media’s journalism is at the very top of my bucket list.” Copps’ second term as an FCC commissioner expires June 30.
While the technology and terminology has evolved since the days of the partisan press, the challenge remains the same, namely promoting a nation of well-informed citizens. “It’s the challenge we face now in fixing what’s wrong with our traditional media — and that’s a lot — and building new media,” he said. “It’s behind the need to get broadband out: It’s about deployment; it’s about adoption; it’s about literacy.”
Today’s youth need to know how to navigate online and to distinguish between truth and fiction and discern “opinion from cold hard facts,” he said. Children must be taught about “not just how to use new media, but how new media can use — or misuse — them,” he added.
Although he did not spell out specific actions, Copps told his audience the FCC can promote a better use of the public airwaves to inform the citizens of news. “The FCC can start with broadcast and figure out ways to make sure the public airwaves are providing more than infotainment, more than ‘if it bleeds it leads’ local news, and more coverage of what diverse people in our thousands of diverse communities are doing and contributing, more coverage of the information we need to make intelligent decisions for our shared future,” he said.