FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Juan Gonzalez on the Color of Media Consolidation

StoryOctober 23, 2006
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Copps and Gonzalez spoke at last week’s town hall meeting in New York on diversity and media ownership. The FCC is reconsidering a number of broadcast rules -including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. [includes rush transcript]

A town hall meeting on diversity and media ownership was held last week here in New York City. All five commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission were invited. Only two showed up — Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. More than 300 activists and citizens came out to show their opposition to further media consolidation as the FCC reconsiders a number of broadcast rules–including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market.

  • Michael Copps, FCC Commissioner.
  • Juan Gonzalez, Daily News columnist and Democracy Now co-host.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.

MICHAEL COPPS: The FCC is in the midst of a hugely important proceeding right now to decide what the future of our media, our TV, our radio, our newspapers, our cable, even our internet, are going to look like for a long, long time to come.

A little history, just to set the stage for our discussion. Three years ago, under then FCC Chairman Michael Powell and over the objections of my good friend Commissioner Adelstein and myself, the FCC severely cut back — really “eviscerated” is a better word — the rules that were meant to check big media’s seemingly endless appetite for more consolidation. It passed new rules, which have allowed a single media giant to own in a single market up to three television stations, eight radio stations, the cable system, the cable channels, even the internet portal, and the local newspaper, which in most cities in the United States of America is already a monopoly. And the agency did all of that behind closed doors and without seeking meaningful input from the American people. Can you imagine that? Authorizing a sea change in how news and entertainment are produced and presented over the people’s airwaves, without even involving the people who own those airwaves and who depend so heavily upon them. It was a near disaster for America.

Thankfully, citizens rose up across the land. They sent nearly 3 million protests to the Federal Communications Commission. Congress rose up, too, and then a federal court sent those rules back to the FCC saying they were badly flawed and they needed to be reworked. That was good, and anybody that doesn’t believe that citizen action can have an effect should just revisit what happened there. We checked those rules. You checked those rules from going into effect. It was concerned citizens at work, and it was a citizen consumer victory.

But, here’s a reality check now. We’re right back at square one, and it’s all up for grabs again. And if we’re going to have a better result this time around, doing something positive for media democracy, it’s going to be because of more citizen action and more input from folks like you. So, this time we need to make it an open public process, instead of hiding in our office in Washington like the majority did in 2003. This time, let all the commissioners come to New York City — I wish they were all here tonight — and let all the commissioners get out across America and find out what’s happening in the real world, beyond that Beltway that they bemoan so much but seem to love staying behind so much.

So, as we begin our discussion, then begin with that simple reminder: it’s all of us who own the airwaves. There is not a broadcaster, a business, a special interest, and any industry that owns one airwave in the United States of America. They belong to you, and they belong to me. And, my friends, now is the time to assert our ownership rights.

AMY GOODMAN: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps at the town hall meeting on diversity and media ownership here in New York. A number of people spoke, among them, New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! co-host, Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I thank Commissioner Copps and Commissioner Adelstein for their continued willingness to hear the concerns of the public, as the FCC prepares yet again to overhaul the nation’s broadcast ownership rules, a process that has the potential to make a bad situation far worse than anyone can imagine. I am talking about the impact of media consolidation on news and information provided for and about the nation’s fast-growing population of racial and ethnic minorities.

Just this week, the United States reached a milestone: the 300 million population mark. More than a third of that population, more than 100 million people, trace their origin not to Europe, but to Africa, Asia, Latin America, or to the original indigenous people of the hemisphere. By 2050, that figure will surpass more than 50% of the total U.S. population. Yet our news media, especially our broadcast media, have failed in stunning fashion to reflect in their ownership, their employment and their news coverage, this rapidly changing reality.

Worse, if present trends of media concentration continue, and if our government loosens even further its regulation of broadcast ownership rules, media ownership by racial minorities in my opinion will virtually disappear in the United States. We are in real danger of waking up one day with a de facto apartheid system, one where a small group of giant firms, run almost exclusively by white investors and managers, control the production and distribution of news and information to a largely non-white population.

Is this overly alarmist? Not if you consider some of the facts we’ve heard this evening. The last report the Department of Commerce did tracking media ownership was in 2000. It stopped doing the reports. And at that time, it found that 3.8% of all full-power broadcast stations in the country were owned by people of color. Now, when an independent nonprofit group does the job that the federal government should be doing, we find that the actual ownership by minorities has decreased since 2000. So, while the minority population of the country is increasing, the minority ownership of radio and television is decreasing. So this is a troubling trend that we have been trying to get data on. The FCC has not been mining its own data. The Commerce Department has stopped doing the studies.

While the race or ethnic background of an owner is hardly a sure guarantee of more balanced news coverage, the FCC’s own studies several years ago, in response to the Adarand case, found a clear connection between minority ownership and more diversity in content and staffing.

For eleven years now, the NAHJ has produced its annual Network Brownout Report, as our executive director mentioned earlier. Each report examines coverage of Latinos on the evening news of the major networks. Every year, it shows the same depressing result: stories about Latinos have made up less than 1% of the more than 12,000 network news stories that air annually, even while the Latino population continues to explode. And this is going on year after year after year. When Latinos are covered, the two dominant themes are invariably undocumented immigration and crime. The harm done to our community and to the general society by this persistent marginalization of Hispanics and by the preponderance of stereotypical coverage cannot be overestimated.

As a veteran journalist, I know that ownership matters. There are few news executives in our time brave enough to buck the viewpoints of their owners on a day-to-day basis. It is not a matter of how many different channels, how many niche publications, on how many platforms or particular venues you produce your content. If it’s the same owners, the viewpoint diversity, no matter how many different niche publications and how many outlets you have, will not be substantially different.

So, if there is no diversity in ownership, it is extremely unlikely the public will receive sufficient diversity in viewpoint and coverage. Because of media ownership concentration, our democratic discourse has been cheapened and distorted. We call on the FCC to use its regulatory powers to reverse this dangerous trend, to reassert the long-established principles of our national broadcast policy of diversity, localism and competition. If we do not reassert them, then we are headed for a de facto apartheid media system. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Gonzalez, the former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which was one of those organizations that sponsored the town hall forum on media diversity in New York.

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