In Portland, Copps and Adelstein hail media owner ruling

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Residents get a rare chance to address FCC members at a Portland town hall on the media and public interest

by Mike Rogoway, Oregonian

Two members of the Federal Communications Commission cheered a federal appeals court's decision to throw out less restrictive rules on media ownership and found a receptive audience among more than 250 people at a town hall meeting on media and the public interest Thursday night in Portland.

"Now the commission needs to reverse course and start protecting the people's interests and the people's airwaves," Commissioner Michael Copps said before the meeting.

Copps and fellow Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, both Democratic appointees, were outvoted by their three Republican colleagues when the FCC approved the less restrictive rules last year. They called on the commission to revisit the issue and meet with the public in forums like Thursday's meeting at the Oregon Convention Center.

"I just wish that all of our colleagues could go with us because they would never make the decisions that they make if they could hear from you," Adelstein told the audience. "They should have done this right in the first place. They should have made you part of the debate."

Thursday's meeting provided a rare opportunity for Portland area residents to address FCC members directly on media policy and regulation. The court decision made media consolidation a focus of the discussion, but speakers advocated a sprawling list of causes, ranging from low-powered FM radio to local ownership of radio, television and newspapers.

During an extensive comment period, representatives from the Oregon Symphony, the League of Women Voters, the Music Millennium recording store and many other groups called on the commissioners to require more local voices in broadcast media.

Portland residents Susan Pearce and Linda Nettekoven came to listen. They're concerned about how media consolidation could affect news coverage.

"Important news organizations are owned by corporations that have agendas, and so you get worried about how decisions are set," Nettekoven said. "Media doesn't tell us what to think, necessarily, but it tells us what to think about."

The speakers overwhelmingly favored new requirements to ensure a diversity of voices in the media, complaining that media consolidation has narrowed the programming on TV and radio.

Bill Johnstone, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, rejected that premise.

"I think there's more diversity today than there ever was," Johnstone said before the meeting. Noting that Portland has strong community radio stations and an expanding stable of Spanish-language broadcasters, he said broadcasters are serving audiences better than ever.

"I think the ownership, the way it's going now, is fine," he said.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey