On February 4, 2013 Jonathan Fanton, interim director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, introduced Michael Copps, head of the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. Mr. Copps sat down with Professor Andrew Lund of CUNY Hunter College for a discussion about media ownership, the FCC, and efforts to promote diversity of thought within the television, radio, and newspaper industries. For further information on Common Cause, click here. For additional information on The Roosevelt House, click here.
Michael Copps Introduction
February 4, 2-13
Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Michael Copps, former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. He now heads the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. Joining the conversation will be Hunter Professor Andrew Lund.
We gather in the homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. Sara built these twin townhouses and gave one to Franklin and Eleanor as a wedding gift in 1908.
The New Deal was shaped in these houses, Cabinet secretaries like Frances Perkins recruited here, commitments made to programs like Social Security.
The houses came to Hunter in 1942 after Sara Roosevelt’s death, made possible by an initial gift from Franklin and Eleanor that enabled Hunter to purchase them from the estate. The houses were an interfaith and student center until 1992 when they closed in disrepair.
Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, the Roosevelt Houses were renovated three years ago and now host Hunter’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers two undergraduate programs, one in Public Policy and the other in Human Rights and International Justice. It also supports faculty policy research. And it offers a robust public program of lectures, conferences and discussions of important domestic and international issues.
Franklin and Eleanor would be pleased that we are meeting in their home tonight to talk about the perils that media consolidation pose to our democracy.
Look behind you at the engravings of the Four Freedoms, Freedom of Speech and Expression first among them (Franklin Roosevelt established on January 6, 1941). President Roosevelt understood that a healthy democracy depends on an informed and engaged citizenry. Hear his words at a 1940 press conference at Hyde Park:
“…You might say there are certain freedoms. The first I would call “freedom of information,” which is terribly important. It is a much better phrase than “freedom of the press,” because there are all kinds of information so that the inhabitants of a country can get news of what is going on in every part of the country and in every part of the world without censorship and through many forms of communication. … you will never have a completely stable world without freedom of knowledge, freedom of information.”
I think President Roosevelt would be concerned about current FCC proposals which aim to loosen restrictions on cross-ownership of television, radio, and newspapers.
Michael Copps has vigorously explored the over concentration of media ownership, the influence of money in politics, the failure of the FCC to protect the public interest, the dangers of the cable-i-zation of the internet. And he chronicles the results of these trends: less investigative journalism, vanishing local news, more opinions less evidence available to inform the public’s choices on people and policy.
Michael Copps has been a creative and courageous advocate of media reform. He will share his ideas with us, for example: requiring broadcast companies to be re-licensed more frequently and be challenged to explain how their presentation of the news serves the public interest. And no doubt we will talk about the negative consequences of the Citizens United decision.
In accepting the Four Freedoms Award in September 2011 from the Roosevelt Institute, Michael Copps echoed Franklin Roosevelt’s cautions 70 years ago. “Building news and information infrastructure that digs more deeply, gathers facts before shouting opinions, and affords expression to the many voices of this nation’s wondrous diversity may be our greatest calling now. Our country confronts challenges to its viability in some ways reminiscent of the 1930s, making it a national imperative that every American be empowered with the news and information essential for knowledgeable decision-making. Without that, the challenges go misunderstood, untended, unresolved. When our media, our press and our journalism catch cold, democracy catches pneumonia. Dr. New Deal prescribed strong cures for the challenges of his time; now we need the restorative medicine of reform in ours.”
Michael Copps holds a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina, began his career teaching history at Loyola University in New Orleans, served as Chief of Staff to Senator Ernest Hollings for over a decade, was appointed Assistant Secretary for Trade Development at the Department of Commerce by President Clinton and served on the FCC from 2001 to 2009.
It is also my pleasure to introduce our moderator, Professor Andrew Lund. Professor Lund is Director of the Integrated Media Arts MFA Program at Hunter College and a faculty associate at Roosevelt House. He received his B.A., M.F.A., and J.D. from Columbia University, where he also has taught graduate classes. He has won several filmmaking awards including, most recently, one for narrative filmmaking at the 2011 University Film and Video Association Conference and also top producing honors at the 2011 Brooklyn International Film Festival. Professor Lund is the producer of nine feature films. His work has been praised by noted film critic Roger Ebert and he has published important essays and articles on filmmaking and is in the process of publishing books on the art of the short film and the journey from short to feature film.
Michael Copps will open our program with a talk on Reforming Media, Democracy’s #1 Challenge, then join in conversation with Professor Lund followed by questions and comments from the audience.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Michael Copps.