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Remarks of Commissioner Copps Four Freedoms Award Ceremony

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Released: September 19, 2011




SEPTEMBER 17, 2011

To receive this medal today--inspired by my hero Franklin Roosevelt, on this hallowed ground, alongside four
Americans who have contributed so much to advancing the Four Freedoms, in the company of my wonderful
family (each of whom is entitled to a share of this award), and surrounded by so many friends--is, for me, the
honor of all honors. You give me a truly moving moment, and I thank the Roosevelt Institute for something I
will cherish so long as I live.
More even than honor, this award confers challenge--challenge to me, challenge to you, challenge to our
nation. The challenge is to guarantee Freedom of Speech and Expression which, translated into Twenty-first
century American terms, means that no citizen should be denied the news and information he or she needs to
participate responsibly in our democracy any place in the land.
Freedom of Speech and Expression is inextricably linked with Freedom of the Press, with an uninhibited,
competitive and vibrant marketplace of ideas, and with the absence of consolidated control in that marketplace.
That is what the First Amendment and the first of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms are all about. These have been the
premise of our system of self-government since the beginning. A shining goal--but never fully achieved and
every day threatened.
In our own generation, in our own country, these Freedoms have been pushed back by special interests that have
ravaged the diversity of local journalism and left in their path of destruction a diminished and too often
dumbed-down civic dialogue. Freedom of Speech and Expression suffers from the excesses of financial
speculators who are more interested in the bottom line on the quarterly report than in quality news on the front
page or the evening news. Freedom of Speech and Expression is further impaired by a federal government
absent without leave for more than 30 years from its responsibility to protect the public interest. Instead,
government--and I speak specifically of the Federal Communications Commission where I work--has abetted
the decline of our small "d" democratic dialogue by, for example, failing to insist that the people's airwaves
serve the people's interest.
Building news and information infrastructure that digs more deeply, gathers facts before shouting opinions, and
affords expression to the many voices of this nation's wondrous diversity may be our greatest calling now. Our
country confronts challenges to its viability in some ways reminiscent of the 1930s, making it a national
imperative that every American be empowered with the news and information essential for knowledgeable
decision-making. Without that, the challenges go misunderstood, untended, unresolved. When our media, our
press and our journalism catch cold, democracy catches pneumonia. Dr. New Deal prescribed strong cures for
the challenges of his time; now we need the restorative medicine of reform in ours.
Now, as then, powerful forces combine against needed reform. We can cower before their money and their
lobbies in unreasoning, unjustified fear--or, in true Rooseveltian fashion, we can take them on, relish the battle,
mobilize the American people, and do democracy's work. Time and again, We the People have come together
to renew our Freedoms. Citizen action can still work, even in this era when so few wield so much outrageous
influence. Organized citizen action is how America overcomes. Generations of reformers proved it--
abolitionists, civil rights crusaders, women's rights champions, consumer advocates, disabilities activists, labor
unions, media rights defenders--committing to a cause, challenging powers grown too strong, making a
difference and moving America forward. Franklin Roosevelt achieved his victories because such groups were
there, helping him, sometimes even prodding him, and together they redeemed the promise of America. Now
Freedom of Speech and Expression summons us to action again. Seek no farther for this generation of
Americans' rendezvous with destiny.

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