Michael Copps Asks: Will Obama Keep His Promise?

The FCC appears ready to relax newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership rules. They’ve tried this twice before, under Republican administrations, and each time, the courts stepped in and ruled that the Commission hadn’t done enough to preserve minority and women voices on the airwaves.

Now, they’re trying to do it with a Democrat in the White House. Here’s what then-Senator Barack Obama had to say back  in 2007: “I object to the agency moving forward to allow greater consolidation in the media market without first fully understanding how that would limit opportunities for minority, small business, and women owned firms.”

In a new blog over at Benton, former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser for Media & Democracy Michael Copps writes about the promises President Obama has made–and what he’ll need to do to keep them:

President Obama’s first term has come and almost gone. Important national priorities have been tackled and major legislative and executive milestones have been achieved. Reforming media policy was not among them. Now comes the second term and the opportunity to deliver on his earlier approach by tackling the declining state of America’s news and information ecosystem. This essential infrastructure of democracy has suffered the same kind of collapse as so much of America’s physical infrastructure—witness the sorry state of our bridges, highways, streets, public transportation, airports and public utilities.

So, too, in media. Private sector consolidation led to the closing of hundreds of newsrooms and the firing of thousands of investigative reporters who should be combing the beats to hold the powerful accountable. Instead journalism has been hollowed out as badly as those rust-belt steel mills. Investigative journalism hangs by a slender thread, replaced by vapid infotainment, bloviating talking heads, and a dry well of facts and real-world analysis.

The public sector is at least equally culpable because government—especially the FCC where I served for more than a decade—blessed just about every media merger and acquisition that came before it. Then it proceeded, over the better part of a generation, to eviscerate almost all of the specific public interest guidelines that had been put in place over many years to ensure that the people’s airwaves actually serve the people.

Fast forward to 2012. Oh, wait! Are we back in 2007? Isn’t the current FCC about to vote on pretty much the same proposal loosening the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule that the majority voted for back in 2007? Shockingly, the new proposal goes even beyond the 2007 proceeding by actually permitting more radio-TV consolidation, too—putting diversity-owned radio stations at greater risk of take-over by the media giants.

You can read the whole post over at the Benton Foundation’s blog.

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