Copps Fears Deregulation Undermines Access to Diverse Sources

May 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Deregulation-fueled media industry consolidation is threatening to undermine the access of consumers to the diverse sources of information needed for responsible self-government-and that’s why the Federal Communications Commission should hold a series of public hearings nationwide before considering any additional relaxation of its media ownership rules, said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps Tuesday.

“I think partly-maybe even largely-because of media consolidation we are skating perilously close to denying [the public] that kind of breadth of information, clash of antagonistic ideas, that people need to have as they make decisions for the future of the country,” said Mr. Copps, a Democrat, during a briefing for reporters in his office.

Media ownership deregulation is an issue at the agency because FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, wants to loosen rules that bar owners of daily newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their markets and limit how many broadcast stations can be owned by the same company.

Though Mr. Martin has been the agency’s chairman for more than a year, he has yet to move on the rules, largely, according to industry analysts, because he is waiting for a third Republican vote to give him an agency majority.

The FCC, though authorized to have a total of five commissioners, has been deadlocked politically with two Republicans and two Democrats throughout Mr. Martin’s chairmanship. The agency’s two Democrats-Mr. Copps and Jonathan Adelstein-oppose deregulation and have the power to thwart Mr. Martin until he gets a third Republican on board.

“Martin made the accurate calculation that a 2-2 commission was not likely to be able to move it, and the commission had plenty of other things that they could move and have moved,” said Blair Levin, an analyst for Stifel Nicolaus

Nonetheless, in his briefing with reporters, Mr. Copps said he believed the agency should launch a review of its media ownership rules now.

“Folks are waiting for answers on media ownership,” Mr. Copps said. “So I think we need to tee it up.”

Mr. Copps also made clear that he believes that deregulation presents a serious threat.

“I’m worried about the future of democracy, and I know that may sound grandiose and all that, but I really think it’s here and now and real, and that’s why we can’t delay and that’s why we have got to decide this, and it can’t be decided just here, it’s got to be decided by the people of the country,” Mr. Copps said.

“If their consolidated deal in their market is working to their advantage and enhancing things, fine. I have no problem with that,” the commissioner added.

“But if they have problems, and it’s going to the quality of the debate or the diminishing of the news and information, then I’ve got a real problem with that.”