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Copps Calls On FCC To Deliver Broadcast Reforms

The FCC has aided and abetted the gutting of journalism for most of the past three decades, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told a media reform crowd in Boston over the weekend according to a copy of his speech, and reformers are still waiting for the current FCC to reverse that tide, he said.

Copps, who was clearly preaching to the choir at the event hosted by Free Press, said "Big Media" have no intention of hiring laid-off reporters even in an improving economy. "They might even fire more, just to prove to Wall Street that the bottom line still rules."

The FCC's that he suggested had gutted journalism, while "blessing and encouraging consolidation and eliminating the public interest guidelines we once had," was clearly a reference to the Republican-run commissions that held sway over the last three decades and introduced the short-form renewal process. But he said the current Democratically-run FCC has not delivered on the promise of reform.

Copps had looked hopefully toward that reform back in May 2009, at another Free Press media reform event at the Newseum in Washington. He urged the new chairman to capitalize on a new wind of reform he said was blowing through the Capital and across the nation.

"Then the new era came and we all just knew that media reform was right around the corner," he told the Boston crowd. "Twenty-seven months later we are still waiting. Waiting for even a down-payment on media reform, like an honest-to-goodness broadcast license renewal process to replace the utterly ludicrous, no-questions-asked regime now in place. Or some public interest guidelines to encourage broadcast news and diversity and localism."

Copps called for "some sign" from the commission, now headed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, that it will put brakes on a broadcast system he said was "spinning dangerously out of control." He said while he applauded the FCC's gains on the broadband and wireless and consumer fronts, all focuses of the commission, he said the clock "has run too long" on those broadcast issues.

Steve Waldman, former Genachowski classmate and aide who is overseeing an FCC report on the future of journalism, said last week that the report--which he said should be out by the end of the year--makes recommendations, but is more about laying out the landscape. Copps said at the April 9 speech that it would need to do more than that.

"What we have been promised is a Commission report assessing the media landscape," he said. "I have been assessing the media landscape for years-you've been assessing the media landscape for years-and the American people have been assessing the media landscape for years. Now is the time for action. And if this report doesn't come filled with strong, hard-hitting, public interest recommendations, it won't be worth the paper it's written on. You and I demand action now."  

Copps, who is exiting the commission later this year, said he would continue to push those issues, and counted on media reformers like the crowd in Boston to "bring them home."

Copps, who Free Press has described as their "Bono and Brangelina," has made a regular pilgrimage to the annual conference to deliver a stem-winder on the evils of excessive media consolidation. He did not disappoint, characterizing the media as "substance abusers," a "profit-at-all-cost gang hijacking the Internet," and "absentee landlords" who have put localism and independent programming on a "starvation diet."