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Vast Wasteland? Not When It Comes To Couric

You can count Newton Minow, author of that famous critique Vast Wasteland, among the early fans of the newly-minted anchor Katie Couric.

In an interview with C-SPAN, the former FCC Chairman (most famous for describing TV as a "vast wasteland") said he had watched Couric's inaugural newscast and pronounced it "pretty good."

"I like Katie Couric and I thought that some of the new ideas she put in there were a breath of fresh air," said Minow, who called himself a "news junkie" who watches "as much news as I can."

Minow also took the opportunity once again to clarify his "vast wasteland" speech to the NAB in 1961, saying he was referring to a TV landscape devoid of competition as well as one not delivering on its programming promises. When asked to clarify he said, "No public television, no cable television, no satellite television, and very little in the way of television for children. I was also reminding broadcasters that they had a public interest standard," were the main trouble spots.

As co-chair of a group called Digital Promise, Minow is stumping for taking some of the projected billions from FCC spectrum auctions and investing it in education.

And how does he feel about the state of television today? Minow said the medium has improved in terms of providing choice, but has declined in the sense that there is more violence and sex.

In fact, Minow said, the two words he wanted remembered from his famous 1961 speech to broadcasters were "public interest." But Minow said his kids have already written his epitaph: On to a vaster wasteland.

Minow says the FCC, unfortunately, is too often political and partisan, and a change from his day.

The former chairman said he thought there was a continuing need to regulate, and that broadcasting has been too deregulated. He pointed to the longer time between license renewals--it is now seven years, it was three when he was at the FCC.

Minow also said he thought there should be limits on the number of commercials, something the Kennedy-appointed Democrat tried unsuccessfully to institute while at the FCC.

Minow was in Washington to collect an award from media ratings group Common Sense Media. Presenting the award to Minow was current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.