In an astounding assertion sure to rock the very foundations of democracy, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps proclaimed during a press briefing last Wednesday that regulation was not rocket science. So certain was the senior Democrat on the commission that he uttered the shocking phrase three times.
Copps' revelation goes against all empirical evidence, since the FCC can't seem to pass time, much less a regulation, without having Congress and the courts stomp all over them. The briefing came five days after the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia told the FCC take their stinkin' relaxed media ownership rules back and try a little harder to justify them.
"It's time to start over. It's time to do it right," Copps said.
And since FCC Chairman Michael Powell hadn't bothered to ask Copps for his opinion on the court ruling, Copps was left with no choice but to share it with a room full of reporters.
"We need independent studies of media markets. There were questions we didn't raise, and the court agreed," he said. "We need to look at the impact on small businesses...on minorities, on families and children. We need to have more credible studies than we had.
The agency ought to examine media deals individually, "rather than to have some funny bright-line rule." The same goes for waivers--issued for a handful of media companies that own properties in violation of FCC ownership rules, whatever those are.
"We need to look at waivers," Copps said. "Have efforts been made to divest the offending property? The more they come back, the more skeptically I tend to look at it."
Even though it took the agency three years to craft the rules that just got bounced, Copps said there's no reason it can't be done again by early next year.
"I don't think any other issue holds priority for the country," he said on the same day Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan brought the automotive and real estate markets to a screeching halt.
"We have to hit the road and get out of D.C. to talk to people," he said. "There is no substitute for going out and finding out what's happening in media markets."
Copps called for road within 30 days, lo and behold if the agency didn't release a localism Notice of Inquiry the very next day. The inquiry seeks input on political discourse in media, news pieces that a paid for and mostly whether broadcasters are meeting public interest obligations.
The National Association of Broadcasters said to bring it on.
"NAB looks forward to participating in the FCC's inquiry into broadcast localism, and we strongly believe that objective observers will conclude that America's local over-the-air stations have an unmatched record of community service," said a statement from the association. "From telethons to tornado warnings, from Amber Alerts to school closing announcements, radio and television stations provide leading-edge local programming that has made the U.S. system of broadcasting the envy of the world."
Copps dissented in part because he said the agency had been down the public interest road before.
"We have studies, we have comments, we don't have action," he said.
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