Copps Urges Media Reform, Bemoans Years of "Mindless Deregulation"
Newseum speech calls out "infotainment," sensationalism and homogenization
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/14/2009 3:53:52 PM
Billed as Free Press' "Bono and Brangelina," Copps took the dais at a packed media reform forum. He has addressed the gathering before--last year in Minnesota--but always as a minority commissioner rather than the more bully pulpit of acting FCC chairman.
While saying he was still teeing up big decisions for the incoming chairman, Julius Genachowski, Copps urged haste in capitalizing on a new wind of reform he said was blowing through the Capital and across the nation.
Winding the stem on a speech that resonated again and again with the overflow crowd at the Newseum in Washington, Copps said that so long as his audience did not come to Washington simply to harvest the fruits of its labors, there could be an era of reform to match the New Deal.
"I don't think we'll be circling the wagons any time soon-but if we're not quick about it and smart about it and thorough about it, the winds of change could blow themselves out before our job is done. We must seize the opportunity when we have it. Us. Now....When it comes to public policy, eight years of shallows and misery was enough for me," he said. "I don't even want to think about any more such years!"
Copps bemoaned what he called "two decades of mindless deregulation" with a brief interruption before a "veritable tsunami of consolidation." The result? "Infotainment, sensationalism, cable news mud-wrestling, and homogenized playlists."
"We're not only losing journalists," he said, "we may be losing journalism." He said the problem started before the Internet, with consolidation and "mindless deregulation." "When TV and radio stations are no longer required to serve their local communities, when stations or newspapers are loaded down with crushing debt or owned by huge corporations preoccupied with cutting costs through economies of scale, it should come as no surprise that some things precious get lost."
He also explained part of his urgency for change. "There are those who argue that's all over now. Consolidation and conglomeration are yesterday's news. I don't buy it. As soon as the economy begins to turn the corner, I predict we'll see another urge to merge-to buy, leverage, and find those elusive economies of scale. More news rooms closed. More journalists fired. More private equity, less public dialogue."
Saying he did not want to paint with too broad a brush, the acting chairman did give a shout out to broadcasters who were trying to serve the public interest, but said Wall Street expectations were forcing them in directions they did now want to go. "Whatever we do should help those stations that are trying to do the right thing and nurture the democratic dialogue."
Old media are not dead, he said, but suggested it might only be a matter of time. "I'm not saying that old media won't fade away but we're not there yet-and sometimes change takes longer to arrive than we think. We've been out helping consumers with the DTV transition-you'd be amazed at how many people are still happily watching TV on 30-year old sets and 20-year old VCRs."
So, he said, since old media may still be around a while, it needs to be held to a more meaningful public interest standard. "I'm not ready to throw in the towel," he said. But he was ready to don a carpenter's apron. "The public interest standard is like a grand old theater that has been badly neglected over the years. The structure is sound, and with a little imagination and a lot of hard work we can make it a showplace once again."
Looking farther down the road, Copps raised the possibility of Internet regulation. Historically, government regulation has been based on some sort of licensing relationship or statutory directive. But how does that apply to the online world, where websites not only are not licensed, but they may not even be in the United States? And what if the new media fail to provide the things we care about-the things we need?"
He didn't have the answer, but Copps said it was time to have a "serious national discussion."
Poot nintane - 5/19/2009 10:14:23 AM EDT
To the 2 persons who posted before: Are you stupid???
Clear Channel owns damned near EVERY radio station in my city. Almost every billboard. Every taxi-cab top ad. Every major entertainment venue in my city and every other city across the U.S.
Local artists have to kiss Clear Channel representative ass just to get air play and ad space.., and let's not talk about the crap that's been passing itself off as MUSIC the last several years. You can go to ANY major city in the country and swear you've heard the same DJ at another radio station 3000 miles away...because all of the Clear Channel owned media uses the SAME homogenized playlists...
That's right. If you're an "artist" by today's vernacular, (according to Clear Channel and so long as your management pays the right price) you will be guaranteed rotation or airplay forever...(i.e. Chris Brown, Jessica Simpson and a host of other supposed artists with not one iota of talent).
Michael Copps is talking about bringing back diversity to radio and TV and keeping companies like Clear Channel from monopolizing the air waves and entertainment venues.
Did you know Clear Channel owns 'LiveNation' and the rest of Bill Graham's companies or creations?
Michael Copps is talking about bringing back good music again...
You two should really go back to 1997 and to 2003 to research this issue more before you spout off about things you don't know much about. That's probably because the information you got may have come from a media giant owned news source...My point exactly.
Poot nintane - 5/19/2009 10:04:40 AM EDT
The "free market" was never free, and never a market. It was a fixed system where phony business dealings created short-term returns, but no real wealth (I realize that conservatives may have trouble understanding those terms - look at 38 years of U.S. voodoo economics to see the results of that).
It's about time that the people like the above poster get scared out of their wits.
Copps is spot-on accurate. As the big corporations played their stock games and got bigger, America's once-enviable mass media have been sacrificed in the name of speculation, consolidation, and conglomeration.
Thousands of broadcast licenses are held by the same six companies, all of them firing thousands of hardworking people in the interest of paying interest.
Newspapers and TV stations are individually still making money, yet are under crushing debt.
Copps will get vilified by the corporate crack-sniffers, but he is dead-on right.
Hans Laetz - 5/18/2009 12:18:54 PM EDT
I certainly can't be the only one frightened out of my wits by Copps' comments and suggestions.
More Government regulation?
Regulation of the Internet?
I guess Free Speech is OK only if the speech you're talking about is that with which Copps agrees...
BillK - 5/15/2009 10:29:43 AM EDT
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