The role of private philanthropic foundations in communications policy making. Defining the 'public interest': The Ford and Markle foundations' influence on policy making at the Federal Communications Commission

Katharina Kopp, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This study examines the Ford and Markle foundations' involvement in communications policy making between 1960 and 1985 and their contribution to the establishment of the marketplace standard as the dominant definition of the 'public interest' in the Federal Communications Commission's decision making. The role of private philanthropic foundations in communications policy making is important since foundations' significant access to economic and informational resources makes them central agents in the structuration of power relationships. In order to better understand the process of policy making it is necessary to focus on the complex process of policy formation that takes place prior to or along with final and formal policy decision making. The study is informed by the concepts of hegemony, ideology, agenda setting and power analysis, and points to the importance of the production of knowledge, discourse and values in the policy formation process, as well as to the importance of the 'epistemic' community in shaping public policy decision making and outcomes. A content analysis of FCC annual reports and foundation grants, particularly those supporting academic research and organizations involved in shaping policy discourse, a citation analysis of foundation funded research in academic journals, as well as interviews with members of the epistemic community was conducted. By the mid to late 1970s a shift in the definition of the 'public interest' took place which was measured in terms of a freedom/equality ratio, which showed a shift in emphasis from the policy values of equality, fairness, community, and diversity to an emphasis on freedom and efficiency. Taking a three year time lag into consideration the data suggest that this shift at the FCC was influenced by the activities of the Markle Foundation. The citation analysis and the interviews also support the argument that Markle's support of economic research helped to create a discourse in the 'epistemic' community that lead the FCC to move towards a greater emphasis on the values of freedom and efficiency over equality. Foundations' potential power to influence the policy making process and their conduct raise important issues for moving the democratic process closer to its ideal.

Subject Area

Mass media|Political science|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Kopp, Katharina, "The role of private philanthropic foundations in communications policy making. Defining the 'public interest': The Ford and Markle foundations' influence on policy making at the Federal Communications Commission" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9814872.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9814872

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