The venue was different, but the message was the same. FCC
Commissioner Michael Copps, on something of a farewell tour as he wraps up his
second and what he has indicated will be his last term as commissioner later
this year, continued to push for better, more accountable broadcast journalism.
The occasion was the USC
Annenberg School For Communications Walter Cronkite Awards luncheon in L.A.
saluting the best in broadcast journalist, and Copps gave those winners a
shout-out. But most of his remarks were about the fact that those winners were
swimming against a tide of media consolidation that had put journalists on the
street looking for jobs, not stories.
He laid some of the blame on past and present FCCs. The
past, Republican-led commissions for "blessing just about every media
merger transaction that came their way, but wiping the slate virtually clean of
the public interest guidelines and responsibilities of licensees." As he
has before, he also took aim at the current Democratic-led FCC for not
converting the Obama victory into progressive change.
"A window opened, and many of us thought real media
reform was just around the corner," he said of the change in
administration, which he had spoken of at the time as a chance for real change.
"Alas, it's been 27 months now-and we're still waiting. Still waiting for
media reform-or even a down-payment on media reform. Waiting for a
public-interest licensing system with some guidelines to encourage news,
diversity and localism across all our markets. Waiting for something
credible to replace the slam-dunk license renewal system we have now wherein a
broadcaster sends us basically a post-card every eight years and gets a license
back with virtually no questions asked. Waiting for the sun to shine on
who is bank-rolling all those political ads we saw in the last election
cycle-post Citizens United. Those ads totaled more than $2 billion."
Copps has been pushing the FCC to return to its former
policy of actively ascertaining broadcasters' public interest performance at
renewal time, and for shorter renewal cycles. He has also called on the
commission to toughen its sponsor ID rules to require fuller disclosure of
who is actually paying for all those political ads, whose volume has increased
since the Supreme Court lifted a ban on direct funding of campaign ads by
unions and corporations.
The commissioner said he did not see the Internet as
developing the "model, mass or momentum" to replace traditional media
or compensate for what he said had been its evisceration. He cast and even
bigger shadow over that vaunted, including by Copps, medium, saying there were
"a multitude of discouraging signs that new media is heading down the road
that traditional media trod as regards both private sector consolidation
and public sector policy shortfalls." He did not provide any examples, at
least in the prepared text supplied to B&C, But he said that trend could
short-circuit "the most dynamic and opportunity-creating communications
technology in all of human history.
Copps also took the opportunity to plug public
broadcasting, He said it was "unfathomable" that some in Washington
are trying to "gut" funding for what he called a "precious news,
information and education resource."
While it is primarily a Republican-led push and one that has
been made in boom economic times as well as lean ones, the bipartisan co-chairs
of the President's commission on fiscal responsibility also suggested cutting
noncom funding as one of many tough budget-cutting decisions that
might be needed to combat a ballooning deficit. The president did not
agree, and the full commission did not make that recommendation.