Acting FCC Chair Sees Government Role in Pushing ‘Media Diversity’

February 11, 2009 - 8:29 PM
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps says the controversial Fairness Doctrine is "yesterday's fight," but he does want government to take a role in enforcing media "diversity" -- including talk radio's domination of AM stations.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Cox (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps says he doesn’t support bringing back the controversial Fairness Doctrine, but he does think government has a role in enforcing media “diversity.”
 
That role includes re-examining licensing and other regulations for radio stations -- including AM stations dominated by talk radio -- to make them “more reflective” of public interests.
 
Copps, chosen by President Barack Obama to be acting chairman until a permanent replacement is named, said that he thought the Fairness Doctrine – a policy that critics say amounts to censorship – was an old fight that “didn’t need to be rehashed.”
 
“That’s kind of yesterday’s fight,” Copps told CNSNews.com. “I understand the goals behind it. I understand that the legislative intent is still there to make sure that our airwaves serve the public interest. (But) I don’t think the best way to get there is to just to rehash something nobody agreed about, even back in the 1950’s.”
 
Copps, however, said that we still need to find a way to make radio broadcasts more “reflective” of the public. Copps also said he thought the decision ultimately rested with Congress, not the FCC.
 
“What I’ve always said, and this is always obviously up to the discretion of Congress, not the FCC, whether we do or we don’t, to me we have to find a way to make radio reflect the public interest,” Copps explained.
 
However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit ruled in 1986 that imposition of the Fairness Doctrine was in fact at the discretion of the FCC. In Telecommunications Research and Action Center v. FCC, the Court ruled that “the FCC is free to implement this requirement by reasonable rules and regulations.”
 
The acting chairman, meanwhile, said that some of those rules and regulations would include new licensing requirements that focus on public interest and station ownership:
 
CNSNews.com: Do you support expanding those rules, those public interest requirements, and ownership regulations and the licensing and things like that? Do you support expanding that to higher power FM and maybe AM stations?
 
Michael Copps, acting FCC chairman: Well, I’m on the record saying I’m going to look at how we put public interest considerations and guidelines back into licensing for full power stations. I think that’s something we need.
 
Copps also said that the past two decades of broadcasting had been marred by excessive corporate consolidation and “mindless deregulation” that had damaged localism and diversity.
 
“How do we ensure true localism in our broadcast environment, especially in light of the damage that has been inflicted upon that environment by two decades of excessive media consolidation and mindless deregulation of the public interest?” Copps asked in an address to the Future of Music Coalition, a Washington, D.C. gathering of music industry leaders.
 
Copps said that the new political climate marked a new opportunity to remake the nation’s airwaves so that they can better reflect the country’s diversity.
 
“I think we have a tremendous opportunity going forward to reinvigorate our media,” Copps effused, “to ensure that the public airwaves truly deliver the kind of news and information that we need to sustain our democratic dialogue and to reflect the great diversity of our country; its races and ethnic groups and culture and music and arts.
 
“I for one, and I know you too, want to make sure that these goals that you and I have worked so hard for remain front and center in the national agenda.”
 
Copps compared the effects of unregulated radio broadcasts to the economic damage caused by the nation’s mortgage crisis, saying everybody could see the harm markets could do.
 
“All one needs to do is look at the nation’s ailing financial sector to understand that you cannot just proceed pell-mell in the happy notion that markets will solve all problems,” Copps declared.
 
“Sometimes, and I think we all know this, markets create problems, and boy have they created some whoppers this time,” he said. “Sometimes we need the government to step in and provide some oversight and some public accountability and if we learn one lesson from our present national crisis, that ought to be it. I don’t really understand how anyone can come to any other conclusion.”
 
Copps said that when markets fail to produce a media which reflects the country’s diversity, government must step in.
 
“If markets cannot produce what society really cares about, like a media that reflects the true diversity and spirit of our country, then government has a legitimate role to play,” he said.