Copps: “It’s the democracy, stupid”


Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps says that democracy runs on information, and that two decades of consolidation are taking a toll on its availability. He sees an obvious decline in the quality of both print and broadcast journalism, and believes that strong intervention may be needed to turn the situation around. Among the steps he would take are a stronger public interest requirement and a reduction in license terms from eight to three years.

The National Association of Broadcasters took immediate issue with the license term proposal. EVP Dennis Wharton stated, “NAB would respectfully oppose attempts to shorten license renewal terms. Congress wisely reformed license renewal terms to allow broadcasters to better compete against our pay platform competitors. Reducing a broadcaster’s term of license would actually harm localism by injecting greater uncertainty into a business model facing the worst advertising downturn in decades.”

Appearing at a conference sponsored by watchdog Free Press, Copps wondered, “will ‘old media’ stalwarts like newspapers and broadcasting simply disappear—or will they adapt and survive? “ He thinks survival is possible, and necessary.

“Paraphrase James Carville if you like: It’s the democracy, stupid. A democracy runs on information.  Information is how we make intelligent decisions about our future and how we hold the powerful accountable.  Deprive citizens of relevant, accurate, and timely information and you deprive them of their ability to govern themselves.  Indeed, if you look at the three core values of our media policy from time immemorial—localism, diversity and competition—they are really aimed at a single goal: to ensure that the American people have access to a wide range of information on issues of public concern.”

Was consolidation a problem? He said, “…consolidation and mindless deregulation, rather than reviving the news business, condemned us to less real news, less serious political coverage, less diversity of opinion, less minority and female ownership, less investigative journalism and fewer jobs for journalists.”

Copps noted that journalism and profit can coexist, but with huge out-of-town corporations using all of their income for debt service, it’s no wonder that journalism is in crisis. He would open to considering any number of remedies, including a non-profit approach to journalism.

RBR/TVBR observation: We always get back to the words localism, competition and diversity – all three of which are very open-ended and subject to interpretation. Let’s add another word: realism. It is currently unrealistic to expect every broadcast station to run local news – there just isn’t enough of a market for it to go around. And if that plank is impossible to satisfy, the entire house of cards starts to fall.