[Imc-sac] FCC Comm. Copps on lack of Convention news coverage
RCooper444 at aol.com
RCooper444 at aol.com
Thu Sep 9 09:52:57 PDT 2004
Show Me the Convention
By MICHAEL J. COPPS
Published: August 30, 2004
Washington - As a Democratic commissioner on the Federal
Communications Commission, I may not agree with many positions taken
by speakers this week at the Republican National Convention. Even so,
I believe our broadcast media owe us more coverage of an event that
remains an important component of the presidential campaign. Yet
tonight, if people around the country tune in to the commercial
broadcast TV networks, most will not see any live convention
coverage. That's not right.
Let's remember that American citizens own the public airwaves, not TV
executives. We give broadcasters the right to use these airwaves for
free in exchange for their agreement to broadcast in the public
interest. They earn huge profits using this public resource. During
this campaign season broadcasters will receive nearly $1.5 billion
from political advertising.
What do we get in return for granting TV stations free use of our
airwaves? Unfortunately, when it comes to coverage of issues
important to our nation, the answer is less and less. Coverage of the
2000 presidential election on the network evening news dropped by a
third compared to reporting on the 1996 election. During the last
election cycle we heard directly from presidential candidates for an
average of 9 seconds a night on the news. Local races? Forget it. In
2002 - the most recent midterm elections - more than half of local
newscasts contained no campaign coverage at all. Local coverage has
diminished to the point that campaign ads outnumber campaign stories
by four to one. What coverage there is focuses inordinately on polls
and handicapping the horse race.
TV executives tell us that the convention and campaign coverage
provided by the cable channels is sufficient. I don't think so.
Around 35 million Americans don't get cable, often because they
cannot afford it. To put it in perspective, that's more than the
combined populations of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Furthermore, broadcasters legally undertake to serve the public
interest themselves in exchange for free spectrum - their licenses
don't allow them to pass the buck to cable. Remember also that the
vast majority of cable channels are national, not local. So don't
look for local campaign coverage on cable, except in the few towns
where local cable news exists. Most Americans still must look to
their local broadcaster for news of local campaigns and issues.
The F.C.C. is doing nothing to help as the situation deteriorates. It
has weakened almost every explicit duty stations once had for serving
the public interest, like ensuring that stations cover local issues
and offer viewers a diversity of opinion. Just as bad, the commission
eliminated protections against media consolidation last year, even
though critics warned that this would result in even less local
coverage. Luckily, a federal court rejected this decision, so we have
another chance to save these rules.
The F.C.C. has also failed to set guidelines for how broadcasters
will meet their public interest responsibilities when digital TV and
multicasting become more widespread. To make matters worse, the
F.C.C. now practically rubber-stamps TV license renewals, usually
without auditing station records to determine whether licensees are
fulfilling their public interest responsibilities or checking with
communities to ensure that stations are meeting local needs.
Whether we are Democrats, Republicans or independents, we all can
agree that democracy depends on well-informed citizens. So as you
flip through the channels tonight while the convention is largely
ignored, consider whether TV broadcasters, sustained by free access
to the public airwaves in exchange for programming in the public
interest, are holding up their end of the deal.
Michael J. Copps is a commissioner on the Federal Communications
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