Copps 'More Worried than Ever' about State of the U.S. Media
REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS
THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR MEDIA REFORM
APRIL 9, 2011Thank you Elon for that introduction. Thank you Free Press for making this
glorious weekend happen. And thanks to Bob McChesney, John Nichols and Josh Silver
for making Free Press happen in the first place and to Craig Aaron for picking up the
mantle of leadership. Thank you most of all to everyone here for coming to Boston this
weekend and for showing America that citizen action is alive and well and determined to
finish the job of media reform.
I'm here because I'm more worried than ever about the state of America's media
and what it's doing to our country. We see investigative journalism on the endangered
species list, hundreds of newsrooms shuttered, reporters fired by the thousands, walking
the street looking for a job instead of a story. And it didn't start with the Internet because
the process of media being high-jacked by the profit-at-all cost gang has been going on
for decades. For the consolidated owners of radio and TV, the license to broadcast
became a license to despoil. Visions of sugarplums danced in their heads--spectrum that
belonged, they decided, to them rather than to the people. I don't indict all broadcasters
in saying this because some managed to hold the speculators at bay--but it's harder than
ever for the best in media and journalism to succeed in a world dominated by those who
are in it for the quick buck and who are often not even traditional broadcasters--they're
stations run by hedge funds, banking trusts and private equity firms. Yep, the folks who
brought media and journalism down are the same folks who darned near brought the
country down, too. Having hedge funds deliver the news is like delivering lettuce by way
of a rabbit, as my old boss Senator Fritz Hollings would say. Left to their own devices,
these absentee landlords would put local and independent programming on a starvation
diet and feed us instead monotonous homogenized music and mindless infotainment
masquerading as "news."
The big money crowd keeps telling us media consolidation has run its course.
Hmm--I wonder if Comcast and AT&T just didn't get the memo? Don't believe it for a
second--the binge continues. And it's even more dangerous because they're now after
new media, too--broadband and the Internet--which we all hoped would be the bulwark
against more consolidation in radio, television and cable. So now it's visions of gated
Internet communities that dance in their heads. And to keep reformers at bay, they've
come up with the rallying cry of "Don't regulate the Internet." What they really mean, of
course, is "Don't let anyone but us control the Internet." So regardless of whether it's a
traditional or new media context, the real question remains the same: will we allow a few
huge companies to control consumers' access to information? Well, without vastly
increased public outcry, the answer is clearly "yes, we will."
Let me ask: Is there anyone here who wants a consolidated, cable-ized Internet
controlled by a few corporate gatekeepers?
Is there anyone here who believes new media should suffer the same sad fate that
decimated big radio, television and cable?
Is there anyone here who believes our civic dialogue--that precious and essential
conversation we have with ourselves to keep democracy alive--can survive any more of
this reckless folly?
Secretary Clinton tells us that we are losing the information war--globally, yes,
but right here at home, too. She's so right. Informed electorates depend upon facts, not
talking heads hurling opinions at one another. I don't say this in a partisan way, because
it's the absence of facts, not the presence of opinions--right or left--that hurts us. I
love opinions; I have a lot of them myself. But as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once
remarked, while we are each entitled to our own set of opinions, we are not each entitled
to our own set of facts. That's where the problem is--facts that never get dug up, stories
that just don't get told. I'm not advocating taking anyone off the air--I want to make
room for facts on the air. What we're dealing with here is a bad case of Big Media
substance abuse--and they just can't break the habit. These folks have no intention, even
as the economy improves, of reopening shuttered newsrooms or rehiring laid-off
reporters. They might even fire more, just to prove to Wall Street that they understand
the bottom line still rules.
There's another reason broadcast journalism, from which so much of our news
comes--even the news we all read on the Internet--is on the ropes. It's an FCC that for
more than 20 of the last 30 years aided and abetted the gutting of journalism, blessing and
encouraging consolidation and eliminating the public interest guidelines we once had.
During my first eight years at the FCC, you and I had to fight every step of the way
against proposed rules to benefit the special interests. We fought some great holding
actions and we warded off some unbelievably crazy ideas. But the tide still ran in Big
Media's favor--mergers and acquisitions flourished while the public interest went on life
support. You and I knew all along that the realization of our dreams waited on a new era
of reform in Washington.
Then the new era came and we all just knew that media reform was right around
the corner. Twenty-seven months later we are still waiting. Waiting for media reform.
Waiting for even a down-payment on media reform--like an honest-to-goodness
broadcast license renewal process to replace the utterly ludicrous, no-questions-asked
regime now in place. Or some public interest guidelines to encourage broadcast news
and diversity and localism. And you know where I come from--if a station isn't doing
its job, put it on probation. If it still refuses, give its license to someone who will get the
job done. These are things we can do right now using our current statutory authority.
Just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning
dangerously out-of-control. This present Commission--of which I am a member--owns
these issues now. It can't hide. It needs to put them front-and-center where they belong.
Yes, we have made important progress on broadband and wireless and consumer issues
and many others, and I applaud that. But the clock has run too long on the media-
essential steps you and I have been talking about this weekend and for so many years.
What we have been promised is a Commission report assessing the media
landscape. I have been assessing the media landscape for years--you've been assessing
the media landscape for years--and the American people have been assessing the media
landscape for years. Now is the time for action. And if this report doesn't come filled
with strong, hard-hitting, public interest recommendations, it won't be worth the paper
it's written on. You and I must demand action now.
The "future of media" is no Inside-the-Beltway issue. You folks proved that back
in 2003 when you organized the grass-roots and three million citizens wrote in and told a
previous Chairman that his proposed loosening of the media ownership rules didn't fly.
Citizen action can still work, even in this age when so few people wield so much
outrageous power. It is time to vindicate citizen action again--and these are exactly the
issues on which to do it.
Winning the battle for America's media future is the single most important thing
you and I can do to preserve this democracy of ours. Many other issues crowd in for our
attention, but those other issues depend so heavily on how media treats them that their
reform depends upon media's reform. And media's reform depends on you. In the end,
it comes back to each of us in this room--and our allies and colleagues and families and
friends and everyone you can talk to, write to, teach to, tweet to, sing to, even march
with. Get the people involved again--they're ready to listen.
As for me, I pledge this: after my time at the Commission runs out later this year,
I am staying on these issues; I am sticking with them; and I'm sticking with you to bring
them home. These ten years it's your voices more than anyone's that ring true to my ear;
your vision and passion that give direction to my work; your belief in media of, by and
for the American people that makes me know--this must be done; this can be done; this
will be done.
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