Local news means ... more local news

[Seattle Times editorial]

Media ownership is too serious a question to be the subject of political games at the Federal Communications Commission. But under former Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC started a study of media concentration, saw results critical to industry trends and quietly shelved the study.

Former FCC staff attorney Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, told the Associated Press that senior managers at the FCC ordered that "every last piece" of the report be destroyed.

As so often happens, someone saved a copy. It was mentioned in 2004 during hearings, and was recently made public by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The study says television stations with local owners cover more local news than do stations with out-of-town owners. The gap is statistically large: In a typical news broadcast, in which the editorial time is 30 minutes minus several minutes of commercials, the locally owned stations had five and a half minutes more of local content.

This observation was not based on a small sample, but on a database of 4,078 news stories broadcast in 1998.

The implication is that the growth of media mega-chains tends to homogenize the news and make each town's outlets more interchangeable. The result is soporific to local politics and a community's sense of itself.

Local owners care about local news. Many people could have told the FCC that, and some did, but under Powell the majority on the FCC didn't want to hear it. It was in the midst of a plan to lift restrictions on media mergers, allowing them to be ever more elephantine, and it didn't want any study to trip it up.

The current FCC chairman, Kevin Martin, has been more cautious than Powell, and he needs to be more cautious still.

There is no need to liberalize media ownership limits, and much reason to keep them just as they are.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2003277060_xowned27.html.

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