Sat Dec 22, 2012, 08:17 PM
Thaddeus (310 posts)
The FCC, the Public Interest and the Blue Book
When former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps stopped by our offices a couple of weeks ago to talk about possible FCC plans to further relax media ownership rules in major media markets, we got to talking about the broadcast media’s responsibility to the American public. The people own the airways, after all, and we wondered whether there had ever been a “golden age” at the FCC when the public’s interests were truly championed. Copps mentioned the Blue Book, a set of guidelines the FCC released – and later disavowed – during the 1940s, when the commission experienced a short-lived period of progressive activism. Victor Pickard, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, has researched and written about the battle over the Blue Book, when broadcasters used red-baiting scare tactics to prejudice the public against the report’s proposed guidelines.
Theresa Riley: Most people have never heard of the Blue Book. What was it and why should we care about it today?
Victor Pickard: The Blue Book (so named because of its blue cover) was a controversial report published by the FCC in 1946. Officially titled the “Public Service Responsibility of Broadcast Licensees,” it defined substantive programming guidelines for judging radio broadcasters’ performance at renewal time and was the FCC’s first significant effort to clarify its public interest standard.
This history is significant because, despite narratives to the contrary, the term “public interest” hasn’t been left undefined by a lack of effort or because it’s inherently indefinable; it has remained ambiguous because media industries, particularly commercial broadcasters, have fought aggressively to keep standards — and methods to enforce them — vague and ineffectual.
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