Wide spectrum of FCC commissioner opinion on media report


The FCC report on the future of the news media in general and local news in particular was introduced to America at the FCC June Open Meeting 6/9/11, and after a presentation from report group leader Steve Waldman, the four sitting commissioners weighed in. Michael Copps was upset about what it didn’t do, Robert McDowell was pleased with what it didn’t do, Mignon Clyburn saw it as a starting point and Chairman Julius Genachowski saw it as an opportunity to once again preach a sermon on broadband adoption.

McDowell offered a reminder that needs to be considered by anyone seeking to understand what the FCC did – and that was nothing. All that happened at the meeting is that a report was unveiled. Whether it sparks renewed debate or simply starts to gather dust remains to be seen.

Copps has long desired that the FCC take an active roll in fixing the media, and saw the report’s recommendations as a step in the wrong direction. McDowell, on the other hand, said he was pleased that in general, the report respects the notion that the government should keep its heavy hand out of journalism. Clyburn and Genachowski came down more or less between those two.

Genachowski did give a shout-out to Copps, expressing admiration for the strength of his views and his relentless pursuit of his goals. But he added that the approach the report suggests is much more likely to be within the FCC’s authority and constitutionally permissible.

As usual, Genachowski took the opportunity to more or less make the case that broadband is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, run faster than a speeding bullet and get a straight answer from an HMO agent.

But once again, it was just a report.

Here are summaries of the commissioners’ remarks.

* Michael Copps: A well-informed public is a vital part of a democracy, and the FCC should make sure citizens should get that information. The FCC has ignored this duty for 30 years. Wishes the report had been a bold response, saying the media landscape is vibrant while in fact it is not. Copps notes the diminishment of various types of news. The report does not address the urgency this problem requires. License renewal is a failure, because it’s a “slam-dunk certainty.” It needs to be strengthened. The point is not to take licenses away, but to use the process to encourage greater emphasis on local news. Copps says the report suggests news diminishment will make it a great time to be a corrupt member of the government; that should be frightening. Stunned that the report suggests shutting down localism proceeding. Report doesn’t offer prescriptions for the deleterious effects of ownership consolidation. Staff report alludes to diversity problems, offers little to fix it. Public policy guidance is needed to fix the problems with modern journalism.

* Robert McDowell: FCC has a small role in the future of journalism. This is a report – and it has no binding effect. It does not establish new rules, or abandoning old rules. It’s a set of recommendations, nothing more. Any recommendations will have to go through the rulemaking process. Agrees that journalism landscape is vibrant. Says that the government should keep its heavy hand off journalism. Pleased to eliminate enhanced disclosure, and closing localism proceeding, which calls for overly burdensome and unworkable items – music lists, citizens advisory boards, 24-hour station staffing – all examples of classic bureaucratic overreach. Wants cross-ownership ban eliminated, which he believes helped reduce the number of newspapers. Not so sure we need public file, on paper or online.

* Mignon Clyburn: Hopes report will spark dialog in the search for constructive solutions to modern journalism problems. Media is all around us, but are the people being better served than before? Hopes shining a light on problems with local media will lead to search for improvement. State C-SPANS, supporting local news with government ad spending and helping non-profits to thrive are all good ideas. Information about minority and female ownership and employment is needed. Approves of new file suggestions.

* Julius Genachowski: Thanks the commissioners for their thoughtful remarks, and singles out Copps, saying that many of the issues in the report are directly related to issues Copps has been highlighting for years. The report is designed to make recommendations that are consistent with what is constitutionally possible. The only thing that’s certain in this area is ongoing change. Broadband is important. Business models must be developed to sustain journalism in the future. Private sector must achieve this, rather than the government. Entrepreneurs are working on this – online and on mobile. Report offers thoughtful and possible recommendations. Getting as close as possible to 100% broadband adoption is key to helping to improve the delivery of information to the US.