He's Back on the Beat

Former FCC commissioner Copps to head up new Common Cause pushback on media consolidation

Last December, broadcasters and cable operators greeted the retirement of Michael Copps with praise for a principled opponent (and some measure of relief). But suddenly, the onetime FCC commissioner with a reputation as the most fiery critic of consolidation is, in a word, back. Armed with a half-million dollars in funding—mostly from the Ford Foundation—Copps has been charged with re-energizing Common Cause’s pushback against media consolidation.

Copps left the commission last December with a vow to remain engaged in the issues he is most passionate about. Since then, he has been keeping his hand in with op-ed articles and speeches trumpeting the need for more robust and accountable local media, including as a member of Common Cause’s board, which he joined in March. He will soon step away from that post as he revs up the group’s anti-media consolidation engine.

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, pointed out that the organization had not been doing a lot in the “media and democracy” area over the past few years due to a lack of financial support. With the help of the Ford Foundation and a couple of other donors, Copps is to lead the charge back into that space. Edgar added that he would be looking for other donors to increase the size of that new consortium.

Edgar said Copps will be taking this effort on the road, including calling meetings with editorial boards and organizing public events that will likely occur monthly, beginning in the fourth quarter.

“Michael is taking on the challenge of reinventing the media and democracy division of Common Cause,” Edgar said. Copps will be working both in Washington and with Common Cause’s 35 chapters across the country.

The Copps effort comes as the FCC prepares a vote on its latest attempt at revising media ownership rules, which FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told Congress should happen by the end of the year.

Much of the pushback on consolidation has been led by Free Press and Media Access Project, but the latter had to shutter its doors earlier this year due to a lack of funding.

Common Cause signaled last week that the Copps’ effort is another front in its focus on money in politics. “We see this initiative as a natural complement to our other efforts to counter the impact of big money on our politics and our elections,” Edgar said last week in announcing the effort.

“Unaccountable, non-identified political ads are a poor replacement for genuine candidate and issues discussion,” Copps told B&C, adding that he would be focusing on ownership, public interest licensing, localism, diversity and competition.

“Michael Copps long has been a great evangelist for better media and a stronger democracy, and I’m glad he has found a new pulpit to continue his crucial work,” Free Press president Craig Aaron told B&C last week. “We look forward to working closely with commissioner Copps and his new team at Common Cause in growing the popular movement for media reform. We’re glad to have these longtime allies back in the fight.”

Just to cement that bond, Copps has agreed to join the board of Free Press, according to a source there.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton