BY ALICIA MUNDY Among Catholics, Jesuit priests are called “God’s shock troops.” It’s important to remember this, because the Federal Communications Commission’s Commissioner Michael Copps, once a professor at Loyola University, is well-versed in Jesuit zeal. Last week, armed with righteous fervor, he single-handedly launched a full-scale assault at the FCC — and established his beachhead. Copps announced he was calling two separate hearings on media ownership issues. He also requested “protection” from the FCC for those in the industry who testify against media consolidation. Finally, he asked Comcast Corp. to explain — in writing — the events surrounding the MSO’s decision to pull an antiwar ad scheduled to run on its Washington system the night of the State of the Union speech. Copps’s crusade to make telecom ownership a Manichean battle of common man vs. big media puts pressure on FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Copps may have “politicized” the upcoming ownership action, as some lobbyists complain. But he’s also made a growing public issue of media ownership — at Powell’s expense. The chairman has tried to balance complaints from deregulatory politicians and from the telecom industry that he’s too moderate. He’s simultaneously dealing with internecine strife with another Republican at the FCC, Kevin Martin. During a House Commerce Committee meeting last week, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) pointedly called on the FCC Republicans to unite in a “wholesale change” in the agency’s regulatory approach. Copps’s surprise announcement of hearings in Seattle and at Duke University was not greeted warmly by Powell. The media were reminded by FCC staff that only the chairman can call an “official hearing.” Shortly thereafter, Copps released an edited announcement, calling his gatherings “field hearings.” Whatever they are, don’t look for Powell to attend. Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy won’t be there either. Martin, as usual, is a question mark. Democrat Jonathan Adelstein will probably show. In a delicately worded shot back at Copps, Powell said in a statement that the many media ownership comments already filed at the FCC “clearly demonstrates that in the digital age, you don’t need a 19th century whistle-stop tour to hear from America.” Powell believes that the Federal Appeals Court, which compelled the FCC to review ownership rules, wants quantitative evidence about media conglomerates, not a litany of personal gripes. However, Copps says that such statements are not merely “anecdotal evidence.” He calls consumers “nontraditional experts.” Powell asked the General Counsel’s office to respond to Copps’s worry about retaliation against witnesses, such as TV producers and writers, who complain about network consolidation. Staffers say there’s little hard evidence about pressure or retaliation. One woman who spoke at the Columbia University forum on media last month expressed those concerns to Copps and Powell, but Copps’s staff say they’ve been contacted by others like her. Meanwhile, Copps awaits answers from Comcast about its adventure. The issue may play into Copps’s concerns about monopolies, as Comcast killed the ad in D.C., where it owns most of the cable franchises.

The Daily


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