A town hall meeting this week will bring members of the Federal Communications Commission to Iowa City. University of Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson is a former FCC commissioner who’ll be hosting a couple of current members of the federal panel that regulates broadcasters. He says the meetings around the country were organized by FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein and he says they’ve been wanting to come to Iowa City. He remarks that it’s a little rare to have members of this agency “who believe that Washington should come to us, instead of our having to go to them.” Johnson says this year every TV station in the state has to renew its federal license to broadcast. The television stations have to file requesting their license renewal. Johnson says when he was a commissioner, they did it every three years but now that’s been lengthened to an 8-year interval, “so this is not an opportunity that comes around very often.” People have from now through December to file comments with the FCC on how the broadcasters are doing. Johnson says the commissioners’ focus is on the increasing concentration of more stations in the hands of fewer and fewer owners, and the impact that’s had on local citizens. People are already holding local workshops to help community residents organize the comments, complaints and questions they’ll bring to Wednesday’s town hall meeting with the broadcast regulators. Johnson says they’ve seen the effects of condensing fifty or so big national media outlets down to just five major owners of broadcast stations in the whole country. Johnson says there’s more emphasis on bigger profits and cutting costs — and that means less on genuine coverage of local issues. From his office in Washington, Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein shrugs off credit for the Iowa forum.Adelstein credits former commissioner Johnson with organizing the public meeting, saying “He’s really been a leader in the fight for democracy in the media.” But Adelstein admits he’ll enjoy coming to Iowa. Adelstein says “We really like to get outside the Beltway and hear from people what’s happening in their communities.” When he does get out — what does he hear? He says he hears complaints “all across the country,” about how people can’t find news on the radio dials, and they think it’s because of the consolidation in the radio industry. The town hall meeting with the current and former members of the FCC is Wednesday night at 7 in the Pomerantz Center on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.
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