Consumer groups close the case against cross-ownership

The research, conducted and published by Free Press, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, uses the FCC’s own data to show why media consolidation is bad for local news and diversity.

“The FCC’s entire basis for removing the cross-ownership restriction is that consolidation creates more news,” said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press. “But in fact, the FCC’s own data obliterate that argument, confirming that fewer owners produce less news for the local community as a whole. This is the nail in the coffin for the FCC’s pro-consolidation agenda.”

Chairman Martin is reportedly trying to push through a sweeping overhaul of longstanding media ownership rules before the end of the year. Despite overwhelming public opposition to further media consolidation, the FCC’s entire media ownership proceeding has been skewed toward foregone conclusions from the start. Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that the FCC buried studies demonstrating the harmful impact of consolidation and then commissioned a biased, “junk science” agenda to prove otherwise.

“The Commission wanted to eliminate the cross-ownership rule, so it put together a series of studies to support its preconceived notions,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, director of research at Consumer Federation of America. “The outcome of this biased, tainted process is an ad-hoc collection of flawed research that trades objectivity for blind faith in deregulation.”

The FCC produced 10 ownership studies with no public input, peer review, or transparency about the studies’ authors or methodologies — then gave the public just 60 days to respond. But before that window for comment had even closed, Chairman Martin’s secret plan was revealed to push for a vote to relax media ownership rules by Dec. 18.

In 2003, Martin joined then-Chairman Michael Powell in voting to remove some of the same media ownership limits. The Senate voted to overturn the rules, which were later tossed out in federal court in the landmark Prometheus v. FCC decision.

“Our research challenges the very foundation of the Commission’s legal and economic rationale for deregulation in the Prometheus case,” said Gene Kimmelman, vice president of international and federal affairs at Consumers Union. “The public record is now clear: Chairman Martin has no public interest basis for proceeding with his plan to relax the media ownership rules.”

In the four years since the courts explicitly told FCC to study the lack of media diversity, consumer groups show how the Commission still has not even accurately counted the number of minority and female broadcast owners. This shameful neglect is exceeded only by its inability and lack of effort to understand the impact of broader media ownership policy on female and minority ownership.

“We’ve shown that media consolidation reduces the opportunities for minority ownership,” said Joseph Torres of Free Press. “The FCC must now account for the obvious contradiction between permitting further media consolidation and promoting minority ownership. Anything less is a slap in the face to the people of color who see media as an issue of life or death.”

Chairman Martin’s plans are now the subject of scrutiny by the Senate Commerce Committee after remarks by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in a hearing last week. Revelations that he has biased the official record, conducted a sham process, and aims to move for a rapid vote without full consideration of public comment suggest a rough road ahead for backers of media consolidation.

article originally published at .

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