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Michael Copps: FCC Should Not Reinstate Fairness Doctrine

"I do not believe the FCC should reinstate the Fairness Doctrine." That was the message Friday (Dec. 10) from FCC Commissioner Michael Copps to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.).

Barton had asked Copps to clarify that point after the commissioner's speech at Columbia University where he talked about the government applying a more stringent public interest test on broadcasters.

In a letter to Copps following that speech, Barton asked for the answers to three questions by Dec. 13, the first of which was whether Copps believes the FCC should reinstate the doctrine, which required broadcasters to seek out both sides on issues of public importance. The FCC dropped the doctrine in 1987 as unconstitutional.

"As I said in a speech over a year and a half ago, the Fairness Doctrine is long gone and it's not coming back," Copps said.

Barton also asked for answers to whether Copps was suggesting a return to the FCC's "ascertainment rules," which were dropped as part of Reagan-era deregulation, and whether Copps believes that "five commissioners can do a better job of ensuring that Americans have access to a wide diversity of content and viewpoints than Americans can themselves."

Copps said that broadcasters have a responsibility to serve their communities of license, that many do, but some "larger media conglomerates" are run by owners remote from those localities and "not so frequently in touch" with the needs of their audience. "I do not think is is onerous to expect broadcasters, in exchange for free use of the airwaves, to engage in some level of dialog with citizens of a community of license about how issues of interest are being covered."

As to the FCC's role, Copps said he shared Barton's concern that Americans should have access to a diversity of voices and views, and that was why the Communications Act required broadcasters to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity, and why the FCC "is charged with responsibilities attending that requirement."

Barton had said in his letter that Copps was free to hold and express his opinions, but wanted to make sure that Copps was not suggesting it was the government's job "to determine the content that is available for Americans to consumer."

Copps has consistently championed shorter license renewal periods, more detailed reporting requirements, and more specific public interest obligations for broadcasters.

John Eggerton
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.