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Copps will hold field hearings on ownership

Nov 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps last week said he plans to hold a series of field hearings on proposals to ease agency media ownership restrictions, whether Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell comes along for the ride or not.
“This is potentially the most important, the most valuable, information we’re going to get,” said Mr. Copps, the agency’s sole sitting Democrat, at a press briefing in Washington.
Under a massive proceeding launched earlier this year, the FCC proposed to relax or eliminate many of the regulations that limit concentration of ownership in the media. To ascertain what citizens outside the industry and the Washington Beltway think about the case for further deregulation, Mr. Copps asked Mr. Powell publicly to commit to field hearings.
Mr. Powell, a Republican who has made clear his deregulatory druthers, reacted coolly at the time. And according to Mr. Copps, the chairman’s reaction has been “unenthusiastic” ever since. “I would do hearings by myself if I have to,” Mr. Copps said.
At deadline, Mr. Powell was declining comment. But an FCC spokesman said: “The chairman not only welcomes public participation in the process he encourages it. He has every confidence that the public understands how to particpiate, as evidenced by the fact that nearly half the coments filed to date, halfway through the comment period in the media ownership proceeding, are from individuals. If Commissioner Copps thinks something can be gained from having hearings, he should feel free to do so.”
But sources speculated that Jonathan Adelstein, who was recently confirmed to the second Democratic seat at the agency, would join Mr. Copps after officially stepping in as a commissioner. Scuttlebutt had it that Kevin Martin, one of the agency’s GOP commissioners, might also attend.
Mr. Copps said he hopes to launch the sessions in January, with the sponsorship of the FCC and perhaps some financial backing from industry. A source close to the issue said two venues are already in the works: New York and Los Angeles.
“We hope to encourage forums across the country where Mr. Copps and the other commissioners can speak,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy. “There’s no question that Michael Copps is the de facto real chairman at the FCC. He is proactively taking his public responsibilities seriously.”
Added Andrew Schwartzman, president of the activist Media Access Project, “When you’re talking about media ownership, you’re talking about something that dramatically affects the general public.”
One well-placed source described Mr. Copps’ move as unprecedented at the FCC and “kind of a coup.”
“It’s what you get when you turn the appointment process over to Capitol Hill,” the source said, in reference to the fact that the Bush White House has been deferring to the picks of Senate Democrats for Democratic agency openings rather than insisting on its own. Mr. Copps, a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., was promoted for the FCC position by the lawmaker.
Also last week, Mr. Copps said he believes the agency should expand its indecency definitions to include violence and to make it easier for the agency to crack down on off-color programming. He also urged the agency to consider whether there’s a link between consolidation in the media industry and what he perceives as the escalating levels of indecency in programming.
“Why is it that we seem to be in the midst of a race to the bottom at the same time that the industry is in a race to consolidate?” the commissioner said.