FCC's Copps Comments on Media Ownership, Serving the Public Interest

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FCC's Copps Comments on Media Ownership, Serving the Public Interest

Dec 14, 2009 11:46 AM

Washington - Dec 10, 2009 - During a keynote address at the Practising Law Institute on Dec. 10, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps offered his views on current FCC activities. He praised chairman Genachowski on his work since becoming chairman. Copps also commented on issues relating to media ownership and consolidation.

Portions of his speech relate directly to broadcasters. Those portions are excerpted here.

The push to combine content and distribution continues, as we saw last week in the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal deal, and as the economy begins to turn around, I believe we'll see still more of it. Despite the predictions of some, it is clear that the era of media consolidation is far from over. For eight years I have seen how one merger keeps leading to another and another and another. It hasn't really changed. This particular transaction has all sorts of far-reaching implications for media both and new. The Commission will look at the Comcast combination in all its many dimensions, but in the end it will come down to one question: how would approval advance the public interest?

I hold the lodestar of the public interest sacred in what we do at the Commission. And let me say right here that many broadcasters and publishers still have the flame of the public interest burning in their breasts -- I know, I meet them all the time -- but the unforgiving expectations of the Wall Street marketers and the need to keep them happy every quarter have made life more and more difficult for them and pulled them in directions I don't think most of them ever really wanted to go.

I am frightened -- genuinely scared -- by the erosion of public interest guidelines from our oversight at the FCC. And I continue to believe that in exchange for use of this country's valuable spectrum resources, it isn't too much to ask that broadcasters demonstrate during license renewals what they have done to provide the news and information that informed civic engagement compels. Not in a burdensome way but in a credible way. Granting slam-dunk license renewals without any semblance of public interest review is not what the statute envisions or what the public interest requires. Nor is it how we got the Ed Murrow generation of broadcast journalism. We can fix this now. The Commission can. And we should.

Presently we are launching a new quadrennial review at the Commission to take stock of our media ownership rules and to assess how they are impacted by a myriad of new developments since last we did this, such things as new media, the role of the Internet, private equity financing, the list goes on. I look forward to a robust, data-rich process. That said, there are also some things we should not leave to a quadrennial review that could be nearly a year in the making. For example, we can act now on programs to enhance minority and female ownership. Henry Rivera and his FCC Diversity Advisory Committee have given us some excellent recommendations for steps we can implement in the near-term even as we work on longer-range solutions. The public interest licensing I just talked about is another action we can take now. Where we have a record, where we have urgency, we need to act. We have a window of opportunity open to us now to do good things. Let's act while the window is still open.

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