Copps urges commission to get busy on broadcast license renewal reform, political ad transparency

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps took aim at rampant media consolidation, which has contributed to shrinking broadcast reporting ranks, postcard-thorough broadcast relicensing and the lack of transparency in political advertising April 26 at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications.

Speaking at the school’s Walter Cronkite Awards luncheon, Copps reminded those in attendance of the central role reporting plays in keeping the electorate informed and the American democracy strong.

“Your work is vital to the health of our democratic discourse, but as that discourse is fed a leaner news diet, democracy goes wanting, too,” Copps said. After years of consolidation in media ownership and the impact of the recession on newspaper and broadcast newsrooms, “the plight of journalism seems only to get worse,” he said.

“The situation has morphed from one about journalists not having the resources to do their jobs to one about them not having jobs at all,” Copp said. “How much better America would be served if reporters were walking the beat in search of a story instead of walking the street in search of a job.”

Copps called on the FCC to “start doing its part” to address issues like media consolidation and broadcast license renewal procedures to promote media reform. Saying many understood that media reform was unlikely until there was a change of administrations, Copps said, “It’s been 27 months now — and we’re still waiting. Still waiting for media reform — or even a down-payment on media reform.”

The FCC needs no new authority from Congress to begin reforming a “slam-dunk” broadcast license renewal process in order to ensure the public interest is served and requiring disclosure about who pays for issue-based political ads.

“We should do these things now,” he said. “It is our opportunity. It is our responsibility.”

The FCC commissioner also addressed calls in Washington, D.C., to “gut” public broadcasting. Defunding the institution is “utterly unfathomable to me,” he said.

Copps added that providing “a vibrant future for our media” is the most important thing that can be done “to preserve this democracy of ours.”