BOB GARFIELD: Democratic federal communications commissioner Michael Copps sits on a Republican-dominated panel steering the nation toward ever greater media concentration and ever less programming diversity. Frustrated by the deregulatory bent of FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Commissioner Copps is fighting back by scheduling public hearings to generate opposition to a further loosening of ownership restrictions. He joins me now. Commissioner, welcome to On the Media.
MICHAEL J. COPPS: Thank you very much for having me. I am delighted to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: You've said that the upcoming votes by the FCC have some, quote, "profound democratic and social and political considerations that we ignore at our own tremendous peril." What specifically are you referring to?
MICHAEL J. COPPS: Well I think, not to be too dramatic about it, that a specter is haunting our communications landscape, and that specter is the threat to remove the protections that we currently have against excessive media consolidation -- how many stations one company can own - how much of an audience a company can reach - can you own the newspaper and the broadcast stations and the cable station in a specific area. Up for decision now this coming spring is whether to eliminate all of those protections.
BOB GARFIELD:I can tell you from grim experience that already a certain percentage of our audience has had its eyes glaze over at the very invocation of the term "media concentration," and what I'd like you to do now please -explain to me in fairly concrete terms why it is not in the public interest for one corporation to own large numbers of broadcast stations, particularly in a market where they own a newspaper. What difference does it make to me, the consumer. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MICHAEL J. COPPS: Well, let's-- let's start off just talking about entertainment and the kind of programming and, and music that, that you're hearing. You know I think the American people are used to the creativity in local music and regional music just springing up locally and regionally, and if-- if it has something to it, then it, it goes national. I think now we're kind of in a reverse situation where we have all of these consolidated stations that are owned and operated by such a small number of companies and directed by-- the frenzy for advertising revenue, and what you have is kind of a homogenized diet that's being fed to the American people. So there has been a tremendous change already. The question now is whether we want to visit that on the rest of the media landscape.
BOB GARFIELD:Commissioner Michael Powell, the chairman of the FCC, has demonstrated at a minimum a laissez-faire attitude towards increased consolidation. I'm curious. What did he say to you when he discovered that you had scheduled hearings on this subject?
MICHAEL J. COPPS: Well, let me say first of all I have given up on none of my--my fellow commissioners or, or the chairman. I think there's a feeling amongst some at the Commission that if you do a few econometric studies and a few professional studies that you can proceed and base your decision on that, and that going out into specific media markets does not add a lot to the public record. I disagree vehemently with that, and you know the media really have a tremendous responsibility to help us tee up this dialogue for American consumers, and you have to understand at the outset that some of them may be financially impacted by [LAUGHTER] the outcome of our votes.
BOB GARFIELD: It's-- in fact they are the media consolidators themselves in most cases, are they not?
MICHAEL J. COPPS:Right. And I have a lot of representatives of large companies that come to my office to assure me about the independence of their newsroom and their newsgathering operation from their advertising or their corporate board room.
BOB GARFIELD:There seems to be very little coverage on -about the media consolidation issue on NBC -owned by General Electric; on CBS - owned by Viacom; on ABC - owned by Walt Disney; on the Fox Newschannel -- it, is it because-- the subject does make viewers' eyes glaze over or do you believe that the conflict of interest has actually tainted the news departments and kept them from covering this issue?
MICHAEL J. COPPS: I would rather say that I'm going to do everything I possibly can to encourage them, to go around and talk to them, to cover this story and-- if I don't see it covered, I, I might be in-- a little better position to answer that question. But if that separation is there and is valid, then I think we'll see their news folks going out and covering the issue, and I think when the American people begin to express their concern on it, they'll have to cover the issue.
BOB GARFIELD:Well what you've said about outreach and about building a record is all well and good, but I gotta ask you again - as a practical matter -is there any chance in the world that Michael Powell will have some sort of life-altering experience between now and the time the vote comes in that will change the FCC's position on media consolidation?
MICHAEL J. COPPS: I don't know what conversion he may or, or may not go through, but I know that he doesn't cast the-- the only vote. We have five commissioners now, as of last week, we are finally up to full complement, and I am hoping when I go out and have these hearings that I will have other commissioners and may even have a majority of commissioners attending some of them if I can make them happen and, and bring that to pass.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Copps, thank you very much.
MICHAEL J. COPPS: Thank you. I appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Copps is a democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission.
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