Copps: Don't `rush to judgment' - Broadcasting & Cable

Copps: Don't `rush to judgment'

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Concerned that Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell's
late-spring timetable is "a rush to judgment," agency commissioner Michael
Copps said Thursday that specific media-ownership-rule changes should undergo a
public-comment period if new measures of media diversity play a key role in
regulating industry concentration.

"If we come up with some brand-spanking-new tool, why not put it out for some
comment?" he said during a briefing for reporters.

Pressure from some industry sectors to move faster should not dictate the
timetable, he added. The impact on viewers and listeners of more media
concentration is paramount, he said, and not industry desire for bigger
profits.

"There is no First Amendment right to use the public airwaves in a way
contrary to the public interest. Free speech can be undermined not only by the
government, but by private corporations" that could control major outlets of
public debate, Copps said.

Although the FCC has already received extensive comments that are being used
to justify changes now under design, three senators called on the commission
this past week to unveil specific changes before they are enacted.

Copps said ownership hearings he has arranged and those privately sponsored
are helping to beef up the record for the rulemaking, but he chided Powell and
the Media Bureau for not being more proactive.

If FCC staff had done more to collect information on the impact of media
consolidation, perhaps the Media Bureau would not have concluded that debate
over the 35 percent cap on TV-household reach is too close to make a formal
recommendation from staff to the commissioners, he added.

"It may be that sitting around here and waiting for formal presentations and
studies submitted over the Internet has gotten us where we are," he said.

Public interest in his somewhat-less-than-official hearings has reinforced
citizen interest in this issue.

Although Copps said 75 percent of Americans don't know changes are in the
works, they are very concerned when they find out. They are also worried that
the FCC's reliance on economic studies to justify new rules won't take into
account the less measurable impact on public debate.

"They're viewing this from the perspective of citizens, not consumers," Copps
added.

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