Officials decline to link TV to Va. shooting

Two Federal Communications Commission officials suggested that release of the agency’s long-awaited report on the societal effects of television violence is imminent, but declined to link the issue to Monday’s mass shootings on a university campus in Virginia.

Speaking at a breakfast discussion at NAB’s annual confab, commissioners Michael Copps and Deborah Taylor Tate also told broadcasters that mergers like the proposed XM-Sirius radio satcaster deal should be considered on an individual basis, and that both government and industry have much more to do to prepare for the transition to digital television and to improve ownership diversity.

NAB topper David K. Rehr, who moderated the discussion, did not question the commissioners about the violence report, but asked about it afterward by reporters, Copps said he hopes release “is imminent.”

“Have you checked your BlackBerry lately?” Tate added.

Congress directed the FCC in 2004 to study the issue of television violence and related issues. Insiders and observers expect it will claim that the agency has — or with the help of Congress can get — authority to regulate TV violence as it does indecency.

But asked if she supported regulating broadcast violence, Tate said, “At this point, I am just trying to raise consciousness and awareness of the issue.”

Neither commissioner would associate, as some commentators already have, Monday’s mass killings with exposure to media violence.

“The events of (Monday) are just too awful to make any connection,” Copps said.

Tate said the shootings “put urgency on the entire topic of violence in our country. Our report is just a tiny part (of a) very public discussion” that is needed on the subject.

Media consolidation merited case-by-case analysis, Copps said, noting the issue is “probably my most important concern at the FCC.” He has been a strong opponent of consolidation in general, but acknowledged that in some instances, it leads to benefits for consumers.

Rehr wanted to talk about one case in particular. “Most nights I can’t sleep because I think about a man whose first name begins with the letter ‘M,'” Rehr said, referring to Sirius topper Mel Karmazin, who appeared before Congress on Tuesday yet again to defend the proposed merger with XM. Papers seeking approval of the merger have already been filed with the FCC.

“We’re in the midst of a process,” Tate said, emphasizing that the filing is recent. “My mind is open and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on.”

“I won’t prejudge it,” Copps said similarly. “Seems a pretty steep climb for me, but I’m willing to consider, since the world has changed” since both satcasters got started 10 years ago.

Eager to impress on the commissioners his oft-stated view that the merger constitutes “a government sanctioned monopoly,” Rehr found himself on the receiving end of a brief admonition from Copps about flip-flopping arguments.

“On one hand you say that satellite radio is a unique market” with no other competitors and therefore the merger should be denied, Copps said. “But on ownership, you talk about a big happy media world” in which satcasters are counted as competition in order to justify more consolidation within the broadcast industry.

Both Copps and Tate expressed great concern that not enough is being done to educate and inform consumers about the coming DTV transition, skedded for February 2009, when all analog spectrum must be returned to the government. They each called for more effort from government and industry to get word out, or face a public revolt that could cost everyone his job.

“We’ll all be here trying to get a few bucks out of the slots if this thing goes south,” Copps said.

Tate recommended seeking advice from officials from other countries that have either undergone the DTV transition or are currently doing it.

Both commissioners decried the miniscule numbers of women and minorities who own broadcast stations and said the FCC should consider offering more help or breaks for them to get into the business.

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