Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of four congressional leaders vying for committee chairman, lashed out Monday (Dec. 6) at Federal Communications commissioner Michael Copps.
Copps, a Democrat long known for his harsh criticism of media consolidation, last week suggested that the FCC should conduct a "public value test" of broadcast stations when they come up for renewal.
Barton interpreted Copps' idea, which was put forth in a speech delivered at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, as a way to regulate the content broadcast on stations reminiscent of the Fairness Doctrine.
In a Dec. 6 letter to Copps, Barton asked Copps to explain in more detail what he meant by imposing a public-value test on broadcast news every four years as a contingency of license renewal.
"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," said Barton.
“Although your concern for providing American citizens information they need to ‘make intelligent decisions about the full direction of their country’ may stem from the very best of intentions, increasing the federal government’s role in the composition of the information Americans have at their disposal—in an information marketplace that is bigger and more easily accessible than ever before—is unwise policy and raises serious questions of constitutionality.”
Copps argued that such a public-value test clearly fell under the FCC's authority. "[The test] would get us back to the original licensing bargain between broadcasters and the people in return for free use of airwaves that belong exclusively to the people—licensees agree to serve the public interest as good stewards of a precious national resource," Copps said.
As they come into power in the House, Republicans are attacking the FCC right and left. The volume was turned up last week when FCC chairman Julius Genachowski decided to put a "net neutrality" order on its Dec. 21 agenda. No opportunity to take on the FCC has been overlooked. During last week's House Subcommittee hearing on privacy and the concept of "Do Not Track," at least three Republican committee members went off topic to scold the FCC.