In one of his first speeches soon after being sworn in as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Powell bemoaned the lack of an angel's visit to give him a clearer understanding of the guiding standard in broadcast regulation - the public interest. Without a clear message as to the public interest, he declared the standard too vague.
Five years later, and now serving as Chairman, Powell leads the charge for even further deregulation of the already deregulated broadcast industry. The most recent FCC decision relaxed a wide range of media ownership regulations remaining on the books and poses the latest threat to the public interest standard and its longstanding goals of localism and diversity.
But amidst this backdrop, there may be some signs that Powell's public interest angel is growing restless and may be preparing to deliver a much needed message about the true potential and importance of the public interest standard by giving Chairman Powell and all of us a glimpse of what the world of broadcasting might be like without it.
Why should we care about the latest FCC rulings allowing growing consolidation of our mass media? Why should we care about the public outcry over these efforts? Why should we care about a seventy-five year old public interest requirement or its goals of diversity and localism? And why should we care if there may be signs that Powell's FCC is starting to take more of an interest in these goals and may potentially come to the realization that life in this nation is far better as a result of them? We should care because of the unique role that mass media plays in our democracy.
Phillips, Victoria F. "On Media Consolidation, The Public Interest, and Angels Earning Wings." American University Law Review 53, no. 3 (February 2004): 613-633.