Academic research is needed to ensure that diverse populations have equal access to—and participation in—communication regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), its general counsel and chief diversity officer said at Fordham.
Speaking on May 3 at the McGannon Center Conference, “Digital Diversity: Serving the Public Interest in the Age of Broadband,” Mark Lloyd said the agency does not have sufficient data to understand what is going on in our new digital age.
“This is 2011 and the data is simply not there,” said Lloyd, a former journalist and political science researcher. “We have a population that is increasingly diverse, we have new technologies and changing markets, and having this data is the only way we’re going to understand what’s going on in local communities.”
Lloyd, who said he was not speaking for the FCC, called his plea a personal one. He said he began wondering about how to ensure FCC technologies are reaching a diverse array of communities before he joined the agency.
With Philip Napoli, Ph.D., professor of communication and media management and director of the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham, Lloyd enlisted a broad group of academics five years ago to measure and index the media usage of an array of communities.
“We found that our data was old and incomplete,” he said. “This isn’t about one group. It’s about all of us really, because many of us fall into groups, like the disabled, which may not be well served.”
Lloyd referred to the American jurist Hugo Black, who said the First Amendment “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources” and believed that diversity is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.
For example, Lloyd said, there is no way to tell whether disabled people in certain regions have access to emergency warnings.
“We’ve gotten studies saying diversity has increased because today we have Tejano, urban and gospel networks on cable,” Lloyd said. “But there isn’t any information about whether those networks carry any news programs. How can we ensure those audiences have access to that?”
Lloyd encouraged the 25 or so academics in attendance to share their work.
“The FCC is seriously limited by the absence of this information,” he said.
Held on the Lincoln Center campus, the three-day conference was sponsored by The Institute for Information Policy at Penn State University and the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham.