FCC’s Copps Stumps for Tougher License Review

Federal Communications Commission Member Calls for Tougher Station-Licensing Requirements, Public-Interest Standards

Unless they abuse their wives or beat their children, "there's no chance [that broadcasters] are going to lose their license on public-interest grounds," Democratic Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps said, calling for tougher station-licensing requirements and public-interest standards.

But Copps, a frequent critic of media mergers, also said he is not against all consolidation. That came in an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators scheduled to air over the weekend.

Copps says he didn't necessarily blame broadcasters, adding that the FCC had a plan to "deregulate, deregulate," and there followed a "tsunami" of consolidation.

Responding to National Association of Broadcasters president David Rehr's comments on The Communicators the week before that "a little more flexibility in ownership" was necessary, Copps did not dismiss it out of hand. "Is my friend David right that sometimes maybe it makes sense to consolidate? I think sometimes it might," he said. "I have never been the commissioner who is against all consolidation."

Copps said that in some dire circumstances -- a station in financial trouble, for example -- if you can prove that a station is going dark, "maybe you make some accommodation." But that that isn't what big media companies want. "They want an always-on, green light for consolidation," he added, and "that's wrong."

Copps said he wasn't sure whether FCC chairman Kevin Martin was planning to deal with the rules comprehensively or "perhaps in a more narrowly tailored fashion," like isolating newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. But he added that the FCC should not go in either direction until it had dealt with issues like localism and minority ownership.

Copps said he had not gotten a response from Martin to an Oct. 25  letter he sent the chairman outlining his media-ownership concerns.

Copps put in a pitch for changing the law and allowing more than two commissioners to get together outside of public meetings, saying that there was not an item he has dealt with since coming to the commission that wouldn't have been improved had they been able to talk together, although he added that he would have some limits.

"I think you have to have some limits,” he added. “I don't think you would say you could have three members of one party going off constantly to conspire against the others, though de facto, I suppose, they could do that if they wanted to right now."

Copps said he thought there was Hill support for allowing the commissioners to meet informally, although another option would be for the FCC to hold more public meetings, where their discussions would be open to all.

Asked why he was against News Corp.’s acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, Copps said he wasn't but he thought the FCC had reason to look at the merger from the standpoint of its effect on localism.