Issue two different types of license. One for entertainment and one for news.
Does broadcasting in the public interest mean providing consumers with information they want to see, or providing citizens with information they need to know? I suggest that two types of license should be issued. One type would be a commercial/entertainment license where broadcasters could operate pretty much as commercial broadcasting operates now. One possible new requirement would be to provided free air time for political candidates. The second type of license would be an information/news license. No commercial advertising would be allowed. The service would be supported by subscription and/or public and private financing. Strict limitations would be placed on the style of broadcast, perhaps limiting it to text only. A modern version of the fairness doctrine would be applied. That is, while acknowledging that total objectivity may be impossible, a reasonable attempt should be made to present all sides of an issue and in keeping with traditional journalism, a responsibility for seeking truth is required. The information/news broadcasters would have direct, exclusive access to news services, again financed by subscribers or some combination of private/public funding. This would provide employment for newspaper journalists and would be an ideal venue for new e-book technology. While most viewers might prefer to watch a more entertaining presentation than simple text provides, artificial enhancement such as a time delay, before breaking news could be rebroadcast on the commercial stations might make the news broadcasts more desirable. The title of Neil Postman's prescient book "Amusing ourselves to death" sums up my concern for our current state of electronic media. The prevailing popular narrative is all important. We have confused reality and entertainment to such a degree that our ability to function collectively is being jeopardized. Words require context and continuity in order to make sense, pictures do not. Words describe reality while moving pictures masquerade as reality. Pictures stimulate our emotions making the process of watching television more like a carnival ride than reading a book. This makes moving pictures ideal for entertainment or propaganda but not good for communicating complex, nuanced information. Perhaps by understanding and controlling the form of media we can mitigate its damaging effects.
Beauregard Bahnam commented
This idea address an extremely important issue that is summed up by the first sentence. The freedom of the press was established in the United States Constitution, not so that the public could hear about Brangelina's newest adopted child, but so that our interests (those things that actually concern our lives) could be protected. When news stations such as CNN, Fox, and the network stations intermingle celebrity gossip with globally important facts that are pertinent to humankind, it is not long before the public has a skewed idea of what their "interests" are. A shocking demonstration of this anomaly can be seen in this short video presentation from TED.com:
It is disconcerting that citizens and residents of other countries know much more about the world at large simply because their news programs focus on facts with a global impact. Americans cannot afford to focus so closely on the personal lives of celebrities at the expense of their knowledge of events that impact the entire world.