FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has been one of the biggest critics of media ownership consolidation ever since he took office. The National Conference for Media Reform hosted in Boston by activist group Free Press and others was a perfect forum from which he could repeat his message.
Copps believes that consolidated media companies began pillaging their journalism staffs for profit well before the internet put many traditional journalism outlets under the gun.
“And it didn’t start with the Internet because the process of media being high-jacked by the profit-at-all cost gang has been going on for decades,” he said. “For the consolidated owners of radio and TV, the license to broadcast became a license to despoil. Visions of sugarplums danced in their heads—spectrum that belonged, they decided, to them rather than to the people. I don’t indict all broadcasters in saying this because some managed to hold the speculators at bay—but it’s harder than ever for the best in media and journalism to succeed in a world dominated by those who are in it for the quick buck and who are often not even traditional broadcasters—they’re stations run by hedge funds, banking trusts and private equity firms.”
He said claims that consolidation has run its course ring hollow in the wake of big deals from Comcast and AT&T.
He noted that while it’s relatively easy to find opinions on the air, it is getting harder and harder to find facts there, and says a large part of the reason is that reporters are out looking for jobs rather than stories, thanks to bottom-line-minded cost-cutting.
Copps called for it’s time to go back to scrutinizing broadcast license holders, instituting things “…like an honest-to-goodness broadcast license renewal process to replace the utterly ludicrous, no-questions-asked regime now in place. Or some public interest guidelines to encourage broadcast news and diversity and localism. And you know where I come from—if a station isn’t doing its job, put it on probation. If it still refuses, give its license to someone who will get the job done.”
Copps noted that Free Press and many other activists were successful in derailing the deregulation attempt of former FCC Chair Michael Powell, and urged those assembled to hold the FCC accountable once again, as they did back in 2003.
RBR-TVBR observation: We absolutely disagree with one of Copps’ main points. He wants public interest benchmarks and he wants broadcasters held to them. We say that a gray area such as that does not lend itself to regulation, nor is there any staff anywhere in Washington with the time and ability to wade through the mountain of confusing paperwork, virtual though it may be, that such a requirement would create.