Copps Tells Pittsburgh Audience FCC Has Neglected Diversity Mandate

Free Press Townhall Event Enables Candid Discussion of Media Issues
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Dave Saldana, 202-265-1490 x 32

PITTSBURGH -- In a townhall-style dialogue sponsored by Free Press at Carnegie Mellon University yesterday, Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps responded to a question from a self-described “downsized journalist” about the lack of women and minority owners in the broadcast industry by asserting that the FCC has neglected its duty to ensure diverse ownership that’s more reflective of the communities broadcasters serve.

copps at FCC in pittsburgh

Chris Ramirez of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists agreed with Copps. Ramirez told the audience of more than 70 Pittsburghers that rampant consolidation in the broadcast industry has negatively impacted journalists of color, with fewer jobs available and less opportunity to move up in the business.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who was instrumental in the passage of the Local Community Radio Act signed into law in January of this year, spoke about Pittsburgh’s long history of community-oriented broadcasting. “We have a diverse ethnic community here in our city, and I’d like to see more people of color and women running community stations, producing local news and playing local music,” he said. “And I can’t wait to hear more of our local musical talent on the air, played by DJs who know and appreciate our local culture.
“Running a radio station isn’t just for the big guys anymore.”

Copps said the public has shown very strong demand for local media, even as consolidation has made broadcasters less responsive to the communities they are supposed to serve. And, he said, the FCC does too little to hold them accountable.
He referred to the FCC’s report on the future of media released this summer, which noted that one-third of local broadcast TV stations provide little to no news, but failed to offer a strong prescription to fix the problem.

“The FCC report was informative but, unfortunately, its recommendations were weak — far too weak to make a real dent in curing what ails the media,” Copps said. “What was missing from the recommendations section was any hint of the boldness we need if we are serious about righting the many media wrongs we see around us.”

Deborah Acklin, CEO of local PBS station WQED, described the culture that permeates many newsrooms and interferes with journalists’ coverage of important matters.

Acklin shared an anecdote from her days in commercial news, when she was forbidden from covering a story about a hospital that was buying up competitors because the hospital advertised on the station she worked for. She also recounted how a consultant told her that to pump up ratings, “you need to exploit your audience’s fears.”

“It was very gratifying to witness a candid discussion of media issues between policymakers, media makers and the public they serve,” said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood, a native Pittsburgher who moderated the event. ”Congressman Doyle has been a leader on media issues, especially on community access to media, and Commissioner Copps has been a constant voice urging the FCC to live up to its public service mandate. I’m glad that Pittsburghers had the opportunity to raise their concerns and get straight answers to direct questions.

“Hopefully there will be more opportunities like this throughout the country. A license to broadcast carries a duty to serve the public, but too many communities aren’t getting that service. If we can get policymakers to listen to people in those communities, they will start to treat their responsibility to hold broadcasters accountable as an important obligation of their office.”

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Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Free Press does not support or oppose any candidate for public office. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications. Learn more at www.freepress.net

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