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Media's Role in the Public Perception of
An Interview with Jordan Goldstein
Jordan Goldstein is Commissioner Michael J. Copps'
of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), Senior Legal Advisor.
In addition to his duties as senior advisor, Mr. Goldstein advises
the Commissioner on all media issues. Mr. Goldstein previously served
as Competition and Universal Service Legal Advisor. Mr. Goldstein
serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University.
He received a BA, with Distinction, in Economics and Political Science
from the University of Wisconsin, an MA in International Relations
from The Johns Hopkins University, and a JD from Stanford Law School,
where he served on the Stanford Law Review.
How does the government try to regulate
the media? Are the regulations efficient? Are there checks and balances
between the government and the media?
From the FCC's position, we try to focus on limiting how many
outlets one media owner can have. We try to promote the goals of
localism, diversity, and competition. Localism means broadcast outlets
that serve the local community in which those outlets are assigned.
Diversity covers everything from viewpoint diversity, editorial
diversity, minority diversity and programming diversity. The goal
of diversity is to get a large number of speakers or outlets in
the market and variety from where information originates. The last
goal, of course, is competition. In the past, we had a whole range
of limits on media ownership. In June we loosened most of those
limits. We used to not only have horizontal limits on media ownership,
but vertical limits as well. In a sense, we did not want those who
control the distribution channels to also control all of the content
that was being broadcast. We used to have financial syndication
rules that ensured independently produced programming. Finally,
we are required to make sure that any licensee from the FCC is serving
the public interest. We used to require a whole range of information
from broadcasters, including everything from children's programming
to going to their community and ascertaining what the needs are
of that particular community. We have eliminated almost every one
of those requirements and today license renewals are a very simple
application. A licensee can send in a request and if there are no
major complaints against them, their license is simply renewed.
Are you satisfied with the role of the FCC? What makes the
FCC effective and/or how can it be improved?
Commissioner Copps is not satisfied. His fear is that we are moving
towards a situation where there is so much concentration in the
media that we will not have the aforementioned diversity of viewpoints.
We will have a few national corporations or large conglomerates
controlling all of our media outlets and limiting citizens'
access to news and information. The marketplace of ideas that we
get with a broad range of viewpoints is important to a democracy
and important to our country. We are heading into a situation where
we do not have a local broadcaster anymore, instead we have a national
entity that is controlling a large number of outlets. This entity
is not involved in the local communities and is not providing a
range of viewpoints. So, Commissioner Copps' fear is that
we are not doing the job that we are supposed to be doing. We are
not protecting localism, competition, and diversity.
In order to improve the FCC, Commissioner Copps will look at a number
of issues. First of all, he would not have eliminated our protections
against excessive media concentration. He would also be a little
more hands-on in making sure that broadcasters are serving the public
interest and their local communities, especially in the event of
mergers and license renewals. He would be more proactive in making
sure that the public interest is served.
Recently, the FCC approved major deregulation of the media.
Please tell us how you might have changed the new policies or why
you think they are appropriate.
I think you need to put this all in perspective of where we have
been and how far we have gone. We have eliminated a lot of the requirements
that broadcasters ascertain to community needs æ that they
demonstrate and publish public interest by covering a whole range
of programming. We have eliminated all of the vertical protections
of community interest and now we are starting to eliminate the horizontal
protections. What we may end up with is a few national conglomerates
controlling the entertainment we get, the information we receive,
and truly controlling all of our media outlets. This is something
that worries Commissioner Copps and he thinks this is the wrong
approach to take. We should, in a sense, protect our protections.
What is your opinion regarding Congress's response to the
The thing that is interesting about this is that only 17 days after
the FCC's decision, before the decision is even released to
anyone from the commission, the senate commerce committee stepped
in and expressed their concern. Given that action by the senate,
I think our view is that the FCC ought to allow congress to decide
on this issue. A lot of people would rather have the House of Representatives
decide and liberate on these issues than an un-elected body of several
commissioners decide. The right course of action is for us to stay
within our rules.
How do you believe the deregulation of the media impacts
news reporting on national security?
When larger entities evolve in the media, there are several things
that can happen. First of all, you can end up with just a few or
a single viewpoint being expressed on a given issue. You can also
end up with fewer resources being put into the news. For example,
we have seen situations where two television stations or a television
station and a newspaper merge and then cut down on newsroom staff.
They effectively cut out the resources devoted to each of the individual
parties. We have seen the foremost example of this in the radio
industry. In the mid-90's, congress and the commission eliminated
the limits on national radio ownership. There were still ownership
limits in the local markets, but nationwide there were no limits.
What we saw happen was stations grow bigger and bigger and today
we have one station group (Clear Channel) with over a thousand individual
stations. In radio, a number of stations have eliminated their local
newsrooms. They have created regional or national news entities
and there is no longer local news reporting on the radio. Now we
are starting to see that trend happen in television, where the broadcasting
of local news is being done out of the station's headquarters,
in some cases hundreds of miles away. Elimination of local news
is something that is a real concern and something that we ought
to be worried about. This elimination will give the public a homogenized
view of many pertinent issues to society, issues such as national
Do you believe the media accurately reports on issues of
What is important to focus on, from the FCC's perspective,
is that the more voices available to the public, the more likely
we are to get a range of viewpoints. We are also more likely to
get reporters digging into a number of the stories relevant to national
security. One of the things that troubled Commissioner Copps during
the ownership debate was that the commission did not go out as a
commission and try to gather the evidence. They did not go out and
look at how these decisions might impact minorities, children, and
local broadcasting communities. The commission would not provide
the money for travelling around the country to hear what different
groups had to say on the issue. What Commissioner Copps did was
take money from his own personal budget in order to travel around
the country and attend over a dozen hearings and forums. What we
heard in those hearings and forums was that people were concerned
about media concentration. We had more than 2 million people contact
the FCC in regards to this issue, more than any other in recent
history. Ninety-nine percent of these people said do not allow for
more concentration. At one of the forums, a former mayor of a major
city came up to us and mentioned that we used to have more outlets
in the city. The former mayor continued to say that when he was
on the city council and they would hold a hearing, there would be
plenty of reporters with microphones trying to listen in on the
hearing. It was such that when you opened the door, two of the reporters
would fall into the room. Nowadays, nobody cares. With the media
consolidation, nobody bothers to cover the local news and proceedings.
You simply do not have anybody getting those stories and covering
those viewpoints. That is why if you do not agree with what one
media outlet is saying, have more outlets to allow for another viewpoint
to be expressed. This is not an issue on the left or the right,
or of concern to Republicans or Democrats. The FCC is the only place
where it has become that way. Everywhere else that we have heard
about this issue, including on the floor of congress, this has been
a bipartisan issue. Both republicans and democrats are concerned
about media consolidation. We had groups across the board such as
Common Cause, The National Organization for Women, The Conference
of Catholic Bishops, The National Rifle Association, Parents'
Television Counsel and Family Research Counsel, Consumer's
Union, the list goes on and on. All of these groups were opposed
to what the commission was trying to do. Our job at the FCC is not
to weigh public opinion and base our decisions on a pole, but when
99.9% of the people who contact the agency oppose the deregulation
it ought to tell us something about American concern for what is
happening in the media. Again, you need to look at what has happened
in radio and most people will tell you that they are concerned about
the consolidation that has happened. This consolidation has diminished
the opportunity for local musicians to play on the radio and the
direction we are heading in would yield a similar result on television.
At this point, under our rules, we have allowed for someone to own
three television stations, eight radio stations, the cable provider,
the major newspaper, and the dominant internet provider in a given
market. This eliminates several voices, which is unnecessary and
not only impacts national security but could harm our very democracy.
Do you believe that the media has the power to influence
public opinion in regards to national security?
Absolutely. Part of what the media does is bring news and information
to individuals. In fact, what we saw in our surveys was that most
people get their news from either their newspapers or their television
stations. Given that ability to bring stories and information to
people, constitutes an influence of public opinion. One of the things
that was really troubling to us was that for a long time the media
was not covering the issue of their own concentration. It took until
the very last minute before we started to see any stories at all
on this matter. In fact when we lost this proceeding, last September,
there was one story on one network at four in the morning covering
the issue. Everyone says that the newsrooms and the corporate boardrooms
are separate, but this is a great way to demonstrate that there
definitely is some corporate influence on the major newsgroups.
This issue was not covered well at all and very few stories were
published before the final vote from the commission. One of the
interesting things about the forums that Commissioner Copps attended
was that the local television stations would be there covering the
event while the major newspapers from the conglomerates would not
show up at all. These forums were no small event either. We would
have members of congress show up along with thousands of people
to make a big event. And yet, the major conglomerates did not even
bother to show up. You have to ask yourself why the local newspapers
were there to cover these events and the conglomerates were not.
This is something that has an impact on the news and information
we get as citizens. When it is clear that the public relies on the
media as a source of news and information, it is that much more
important to have editorial diversity in the media. We do not regulate
the diversity that they put into their outlets, that is, we do not
say you must broadcast this specific story or that one. However,
what we do is try to make sure that all major news stories are covered
so that citizens can get a diverse source of information. Commissioner
Copps' view is that we are eliminating that diverse source
and we are getting to the point where one entity can control large
parts of information that the public is receiving. That definitely
does influence the public opinion on a variety of issues.
What general message would you like to send to the public
regarding the media, national security, or any other issue of importance
to the FCC?
I think the general message is that this issue matters to everyone
in the country. Everyone in America ought to see themselves as a
stakeholder in this issue. The public owns the airways. No company
in this country, no entity owns a single airway, they are owned
by the public. We decided a long time ago that the people who own
these airways use them as a public resource. They can make profit
off of it, they can even run it as a business. But, they still have
an obligation to serve the public interest. They are using a public
resource to serve their community. We need to make sure that they
are doing so. This is something that's going to have an impact
on the entertainment, information, and viewpoints individuals and
families are able to obtain. Ultimately, it could have an effect
on our country and its democracy. For that reason, hopefully, people
who read this interview will get involved and let their voices be
heard. We need to have a national dialogue on this matter and people's
voices need to be acknowledged.
Submitted by: Matt Mosgin, 2003 Summer Intern