WASHINGTON, July 14, 2010- Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps fears that industry consolidation will overlook public interest and damage the country’s media landscape.
Speaking at a forum concerning the Comcast/NBCU merger at Northwestern University Law School on July 13 Copps feels like this merger is unique, and said “While in some respects it is similar to transactions that we have witnessed before, in other important ways it is new and novel,” since the merger includes broadband and the internet.
According to the commissioner, the fairness assurances and conditions made in the Comcast/NBCU proposal are not adequate, especially when the future of the internet is concerned. He said we cannot trust decisions to be made in the industry by those without public policy consideration. By doing so, he said Americans would “lose the media and we set ourselves up to lose everything else.”
In the last few decades, he said public interest has been overlooked by the government as industry consolidation was encouraged. He blamed the combination of “bad private choices and equally horrendous public policy choices” for these damages. Copps said the FCC, the agency charged with protecting consumers, has allowed serious harm to come to localism, diversity, and competition, which are the basic tenants of public interest.
In addition to public interest, Copps examined the adverse impacts of “heedless deregulation” on society in the last decade. Using the news and information industry as an example, he said that consolidation and newsroom cut-backs, combined with the FCC’s disregard for public interest, has not revived the news business. Instead, he said it “condemned us to less real news, less serious political coverage, less diversity of opinion, less minority and female ownership, less investigative journalism, and fewer jobs for journalists.” He said we are close to putting democracy in danger by denying our country the news and information and civic dialogue it depends on.
However, Copps said there is much promise to be found in the internet, calling it “America’s Great Enabler.” He said every issue facing the United States has some type of broadband component in its solution. Therefore, we need to keep the Internet open and dynamic in order to avoid the problems currently facing traditional media sources.
He wants consumers and industry to know what their protections and rules are online, and to enact some type of forum where problems can be fixed when the rules are unclear or broken. In response to criticism that this type of system is government meddling for too bureaucratic, Copps said this would merely be consumer protection, which the FCC was designed to promote and oversee.
He also delved into the topic of promoting diversity, one of the FCC’s central tenants. He said that diversity online, which includes all varieties of content, opinion, and format, is essential to keeping an open internet. However, he also focused on diversity ownership, saying that minorities make up 34 percent of the population but only own 3.15 percent of the full-power television stations. Only 5.8 percent of television stations are owned by women, who make up 51 percent of the population.
Therefore, minorities’ interests, specific challenges, and their contributions do not have adequate channels through which to receive attention. Copps said “shortchanging ownership diversity is shortchanging our civic dialogue.”
Overall, he was pleased that FCC Chairman Genachowski has set up a review proceeding for the Comcast/NBCU merger that includes in-depth investigation and consideration. He also thanked members of Congress and members of the press for the involvement and attention they are giving to the proceedings. He asked the public to stay involved in these types of debates and discussions because the future of the country will depend upon the type of media that it will have.