Once upon a time in America there was a thing called the “public interest.” The airwaves were a publicly owned resource, and broadcasters profiting from their use were obliged to serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” These principles were codified in 1927 and 1934 legislation and were accepted (if not universally loved) for decades. This policy was built on a philosophy that believed public resources existed for something more than the generation of corporate profit, a concept that might strike us as quaint these days. What is there in life but the service of corporate profit, after all?
The idea that there’s more to life than private ownership and profit began unraveling in earnest when Reagan took office and appointed Mark Fowler to head the FCC. In a truly landmark moment, Fowler and Senior Legal Advisor Daniel Brenner co-authored a 1982 paper that “updated” our concept of public interest, stating that the public interest is “what the public is interested in.” And no, I’m not making that up. (More…)