Copps Invents Crisis for FCC ‘Cures’

Published May 31, 2016

Since Rahm Emanuel left Washington in relative ignominy, his rallying cry—”never let a good crisis go to waste”—has been noticeably and fortuitously absent from the national public policy debate.

Until December 2, that is, when Michael J. Copps did Emanuel one better. Copps, the outspoken commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, appeared before the Columbia School of Journalism to capitalize on a crisis that doesn’t even exist.

“We should be riding on the cusp of an information and civic commons where anyone and everyone can engage, where bountiful news and information flow like water, where guaranteed openness trumps the threat of walled gardens, and where small ‘d’ democracy is practiced on a town square paved with broadband bricks,” Copps told aspiring journalists.

Despite the purple prose employed by Copps, his point here is well taken. Except he believes the information industry today is in crisis. All this to promulgate the Seven Public Values he deems necessary for fixing the ills he falsely attributes to private industry.

His rhetoric is truly bizarre. “Our traditional media—newspapers, radio, television—have long since fallen victim to the excesses of a new Gilded Age,” he cavils, using the label Mark Twain applied to the era of then-unprecedented wealth created by industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Jay Gould.

To Copps, thriving media and the creation of wealth—and even maintaining profitability—are in opposition. He says the media are on “a suicidal road of hyper-speculation, creativity-stifling consolidation, and Wall Street pandering that gutted journalism’s ranks and resources, cutting deep into the bone.”

Copps’ speech elicited this response from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX): “I hope … that you do not mean to suggest that it is the job of the federal government, through the [FCC], to determine the content that is available for Americans to consume.”

But this is precisely what Copps advocates. He posits his Seven Public Values as neither “excessive” nor “onerous,” begging the question, “for whom?”

If adhered to strictly, each of Copps’ values would require plenty from the private sector he apparently believes isn’t encumbered enough by government regulations, paperwork, and licensing requirements.

Additionally, several of his values require significantly increased financial outlays for broadcasters in terms of production and reporting responsibilities. This includes a local or independently produced programming requirement for both radio and television stations, which Copps recommends setting at 25 percent of all content, to allay the “homogenized music and entertainment from huge conglomerates [which] constrains creativity, suppresses local talent, and detracts from the great tapestry of our nation’s cultural diversity.” He wants to make the FCC a cultural czar, using government force to ensure each community produces its own versions of “Wayne’s World” and “Coffee Talk.”

He also calls for more frequent license renewals and “Meaningful Commitments to News and Public Affairs Programming,” meaning the FCC would decide what news you get to hear. Talk about diversity!

The remainder of Copps’ values are boilerplate: political advertising disclosure, required programming disclosure, increased diversity of broadcast outlet ownership, community discovery periods, and public safety.

Of course, any speech by Copps would be incomplete without calls for forced network neutrality and more tax dollars apportioned to public broadcasting, plus a plug for the FCC’s Digital and Media Literacy program—another boondoggle.

Copps says all these steps are necessary to fulfill what he determined is the core function of the FCC: “an honest-to-goodness consumer protection agency. … Ensuring that all citizens have access to worthy media, to the news and information our democratic dialogue requires.”

Translation: The federal government has the authority to subsidize and decide what information the public gets to hear and who gets to create and present it.

That’s news to me.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.