Copps Targets Pay-for-Play

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FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is pushing for a review of broadcast localism with plenty of teeth.

The commission is preparing to launch an inquiry examining whether broadcasters are doing a good enough job serving the needs of their home towns.

Copps is unhappy that the proceeding will not result in any sanctions against broadcasters, but will ask only for input from the public and industry on the job stations are doing. "The FCC ought to do more than just ask preliminary questions," he told the Future of Music Coalition's annual Washington rally (he was essentially preaching to the choir). "We should investigate allegations of pay for play that might form the basis for enforcement action under current rules." Critics of the radio industry say the common practice of accepting payments from music promoters runs perilously close to violating prohibitions on taking money to play specific songs.

The localism initiative is FCC Chairman Michael Powell's response to criticism of "Big Media" practices and the product of his desire to separate the localism issue from the ownership deregulation he pushed through the commission last Spring. That FCC's deregulation has been held up in court.

Copps also called on Powell to expand the FCC's review of potential public interest obligations for digital TV stations. He wants two ongoing proceedings wrapped up quickly. One is examining the need for broader children's programming requirements and the other is on whether to require posting of stations' public files on the Internet. Then, the FCC should consider other DTV and digital radio obligations, including specific mandates for stations that use digital capabilities to offer multiple channels at the same time.

Copps credited FMC and its allies with marshaling significant public opinion to media consolidation. "If we can keep the grassroots pressure on, we can see progress--real progress--in the months ahead."

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