A Federal Communications Commission member Monday ripped broadcast networks’ decision to “pass the buck” of national political-convention coverage onto cable channels that some 35 million Americans can’t see.
In an Op-Ed column in The New York Times, commissioner Michael Copps said: “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.”
Broadcasters get free use of public airwaves and will receive an estimated $1.5 billion in political advertising this campaign season, Copps observed, yet “when it comes to coverage of issues important to our nation, the answer is” what the public gets in return is “less and less.” Campaign coverage on the evening news has fallen by huge amounts even since 1996, Copps said.
And to say that cable channels are picking up the slack of limited coverage of the party’s conventions and of campaign events ignores that about 35 million people don’t get cable or satellite TV, mostly because they can’t afford it, he opined. That is “more than the combined populations of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
Copps said, “The F.C.C. is doing nothing to help as the situation deteriorates,” eroding public-interest requirements and taking steps to allow further consolidation of broadcast ownership.
Network executives have argued that reducing convention coverage was justified because the political events have become almost news-free, highly structured infomercials for the parties, with the nominating results known well in advance.