Copps: Current Ownership Proposal Is Déjà Vu-Plus

Add former Democratic FCC commissioner and media consolidation critic Michael Copps to those criticizing FCC chairman Julius Genachowski for his media ownership proposal.

That is not a big surprise since Copps voted against a similar proposal offered up by then-FCC chairman Kevin Martin -- a Republican -- in 2007.

Copps, currently heading up Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, blogged Monday that he was shocked that the proposal from Genachowski, a Democrat, was even more deregulatory than Martin's.

In addition to loosening newspaper/TV cross-ownership, the current proposed media ownership changes include lifting limits on newspaper/radio and TV/radio cross-ownership, although it also would make some joint sales agreements subject to local ownership limits that are not being loosened.

"Instead of hurrying in the wrong direction, wouldn't the Commission's time be better utilized by considering (and actually voting on) some of the dozens of recommendations that have been put before it by civil rights and public interest groups to establish programs and incentives to encourage minority and female ownership?" he said. "It is time for the FCC to take a deep breath, change direction, and get on with the huge challenge of encouraging a diverse media environment that serves all of our citizens and that nourishes a thriving civic dialogue."

Copps pointed out that then-Senator Barack Obama back in 2006 and 2007 objected to the Martin moves without first gauging their impact on minorities and small businesses. That is the same criticism now being leveled at Genachowski, the president's pick for chairman.

"The pending proposal does all this without coming close to meeting the demands of the Third Circuit federal court that refused to accept the 2007 rules (and a prior 2003 attempt to loosen the ownership rules, too) largely because those rules failed to deal with the lack of minority ownership," said Copps. "What has changed in the interim, other than the statistics of minority ownership getting even worse? Does the Commission really need the court to tell it 'no' yet another time? That would be three -- a strike-out where I come from. Let's be clear here: the proposal currently before the Commission would make it decidedly more difficult for minorities and women to have their own stations."

In response to rising criticism from Hill Democrats and others, an FCC spokesman reiterated last week that newspaper/radio and TV/radio limits were no longer needed, and that the item did address diversity.

"FCC chairman Genachowski [has] shared a proposal with his colleagues to streamline and modernize media ownership rules, including eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross ownership.  As the Commission recognized last year, while the media marketplace is in transition, broadband and new media are not yet available as ubiquitously as traditional broadcast media, and certain protections therefore remain important to promoting competition, diversity, and localism," the spokesman said in a statement. "The proposal promotes media diversity by retaining some of the consolidation limits, and through a number of measures that provide broadcast opportunities for small businesses."

The chairman circulated the item last month, but has not voted it yet himself, nor have the other commissioners. He is currently in Dubai for an international telecom conference and is not likely to vote it until next week at the earliest.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.