FCC Should Revoke KCOP’s License

An era quietly ended in Southern California last month, one that should not go unnoticed by the public, broadcasters or the Federal Communications Commission.

For the first time in over 50 years, KCOP-TV in Los Angeles doesn’t have a newscast. Fox Television, which owns the station, pulled the plug on its 7 pm and 11 pm news programs on September 22nd.

Throughout its history, KCOP’s newscasts were never more than a blip in the ratings, but they did help launch and further extend the careers of many fine broadcasters, including George Putnam, Regis Philbin, Hal Fishman, Warren Olney, Larry Atteberry, Rick Garcia, Sylvia Lopez, Ellen Leyva and Rick Chambers.

For many years KCOP was also one of the few independent voices for television news in Los Angeles, competing against KTTV, KTLA and KHJ (now KCAL) at 10 pm. In the 1980’s, KCOP even created an advertising campaign based on that theme – “Very Independent” – and produced some award winning newscasts and investigative stories with a very limited budget.

Sadly, that era ended long ago. Thanks to deregulation and consolidation of the broadcast industry, there are no longer any truly “independent” voices among the Los Angeles television stations. Broadcasting today is dominated and controlled by corporations – and much of what we see and hear over the airwaves in Los Angeles is decided 3,000 miles away at corporate headquarters in New York City.

That was never the intent when these broadcast licenses were issued. Radio and television stations operated under strict guidelines to serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity” – and risked losing their licenses if they didn’t provide enough news and public affairs programming.

Today, the closest thing to news and public affairs you’ll see on KCOP is TMZ and endless re-runs of Seinfeld.

Fox is treating KCOP like it’s a cable channel – which it is not.

Broadcasters still have an obligation to serve their local communities. The FCC requires “local live programs” and “programming devoted to discussion of local public issues.” Further policies call for an “opportunity for local self-expression” and “the development and use of local talent.”

Where are those programs on KCOP?

These are not just abstract ideas for NABET members and others who work in the broadcast industry. Corporate control of broadcasting has not only silenced local independent voices, it has eliminated thousands of union jobs around the country.

It’s time to put a stop to this — or we will see other corporate carpetbaggers do exactly what Fox has done, not only at KCOP, but at WWOR-TV in New Jersey – another Fox station that recently had its newscast dropped.

New Jersey residents have long complained that WWOR was more focused on covering New York City than it was in serving New Jersey. The late New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg even went so far as ask the FCC to revoke WWOR’s license, because it “has not served New Jersey well.”

Following Lautenberg’s death in June, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez took up the cause, calling for a review of WWOR’s license.

Menendez wrote in a letter to Mignon Clyburn, the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission:

It is becoming increasingly critical that the FCC make a determination about WWOR’s license and whether they are adequately serving New Jersey as the law and FCC rules stipulate.  From my perspective, News Corporation (Fox) is not.

The people of New Jersey deserve better. So do those of us in Southern California.

KCOP’s license comes up for renewal with the FCC in 2014. I am calling on California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to challenge that renewal and to have KCOP’s license reassigned to a broadcaster worthy of having it.