Victor Pickard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication, was the featured speaker at a Columbia University colloquium this week. The title of his presentation was “The History and Future of Public Interest Media Policy.”
Among policymakers and pundits it is often noted without much reflection that the public interest standard has remained frustratingly ill-defined. While it is true that previous attempts to define standards have been fraught with conflict and difficulty, the term “public interest” has not been left undefined by a lack of effort or because it is inherently indefinable. Rather it has remained ambiguous because media industries, particularly commercial broadcasters, have fought aggressively to keep standards—and methods to enforce them—vague and ineffectual. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon occurred in the 1940s when industry efforts, often in the form of red-baiting, successfully thwarted a social democratic approach to media policymaking. This talk will focus on one episode within this period, the policy battles that took place around the controversial FCC Blue Book. Drawing on this history, the discussion will also reflect on possible future trajectories for public interest policy given the many media-related challenges facing us today.