Copps Pushes for Political Speech

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Media activists, joined by Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps, kicked off a campaign Monday aimed at pressuring local stations into providing more political and public-interest programming.

The Community-by-Community Campaign aims to mobilizing citizens themselves to make the demands on their hometown stations and is billed as a response to declining amounts of election coverage by local broadcasters.

More than half of all top-rated local news broadcasts aired no campaign coverage in the seven weeks leading up to Election Day 2002, according to a 2002 study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

"I read the other day that many Americans likely saw more prime-time entertainment on a single night than they saw election coverage during an entire campaign!," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, speaking at National Press Club kick-off to the campaign. "We need America’s broadcasters to step up to the plate and correct this deplorable mess."

The campaign is organized by the Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition,  comprising the United Church of Christ Office of Communications, the Alliance for Better Campaigns, Common Cause, and MediaChannel.org.

"We will give concerned citizens the tools to directly confront broadcasters in their towns and cities, and to tell them they want more: more public affairs programming, more substantive news coverage, and more diversity of views," Celia Viggo Wexler, Common Cause vice president for advocacy, said during a Washington press conference announcing the campaign.

"Broadcasters by and large are not doing a good job informing Americans about important issues." The campaign coincides with the FCC's inquiry into the need for specific public interest obligations that broadcasters would have to comply with.

Campaign organizers want local citizens groups to push station managers into signing pledges to air a minimum of two hours per week of candidate-centered or electoral programming during prime time in the six weeks leading up to the November 2 elections. Citizens will be asked to monitor whether the pledges are honored.

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