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Media consolidation takes toll on state coverage

Media consolidation is taking its toll on the ability of the media, including TV newsrooms, to cover state legislatures where nearly $1.3 trillion is allocated each year, said FCC commissioner Michael Copps.

Copps made his remarks during a public meeting held Feb. 23 in Harrisburg, PA, on media ownership as part of the FCC's latest effort to revise ownership rules.

A media merger usually means one less reporter per beat, including the state legislature, he said. During a period of years, additional mergers create a situation with too few reporters. Copps quoted statistics showing that there are currently about 500 reporters nationwide covering state legislatures. "That works out to 10 per state — for all forms of media — with only a handful, sometimes as few as two, in our smaller states," he said. He contrasted that number to the 40,000 registered lobbyists — five per legislator — at the state level.

During his comments, Copps called for a restoration of "meaningful public interest responsibilities on our broadcast media — like an honest-to-goodness licensing system that doesn't grant licenses automatically, but stops to judge if a license-holder is really doing its job to serve the common good."

Echoing Copps' remarks, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said fewer media outlets meant less coverage of the daily activities of statehouses. While acknowledging the contention of consolidation proponents that news consumers have new options like the Internet and satellite radio to get their information, Adelstein said broadcast news still dominates; thus, the consequences of consolidation should be carefully considered.

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