Another suppressed FCC ownership study comes to light

Second Secret Study Surfaces at FCC
[Free Press]

A Federal Communications Commission study on the negative impacts of radio consolidation came to light Monday after being buried at the agency for at least two years. This was the second secret FCC study on media ownership to surface in as many weeks.

"This is a scandal," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "Apparently, FCC officials are willing to deep-six any research that contradicts industry's pro-consolidation claims. They can't be trusted. There needs to be an independent investigation and a full review of all research conducted under the leadership of Michael Powell and Kevin Martin."

The study, a "Review of the Radio Industry" conducted by the FCC Media Bureau, found that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 had led to a drastic decline in the number of radio station owners -- even as the actual number of commercial stations in the United States had increased.

A copy of the study is available at http://www.stopbigmedia.com/files/radio_ownership.pdf

Although the study would have been the fifth of its kind since the 1996 Act -- which lifted national radio ownership caps -- it was never released, and no subsequent studies on the topic have been conducted. It only became public after a copy was leaked to the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

"It is disappointing that the highly qualified and dedicated professional researchers employed by the FCC have been frustrated in their efforts to contribute their findings to the debate over media ownership," said Peter DiCola, research director of the Future of Music Coalition. "And it is especially curious that their findings would be squelched considering that one of the papers simply extends previous FCC work on radio consolidation -- documenting the well-established trend in radio toward consolidated control and standing in accord with other academic and policy research."

Last week, Boxer uncovered a buried federal study that showed media consolidation is harmful to local news reporting. The 2004 report found that locally owned stations produced five minutes more local news coverage in a half-hour newscast than their consolidated competitors.

Upon seeing the results, senior managers at the FCC ordered that "every last piece" of that study be destroyed, according to the Associated Press. Former Chairman Michael Powell has denied any knowledge of the study or its disappearance.

Free Press, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Media Access Project have called on new Chairman Kevin Martin to "immediately seek an independent investigation, through the Office of the Inspector General, to determine the circumstances under which the public was denied access to this important, taxpayer-funded research, the parties involved and the processes that may have allowed any record of its existence to be destroyed."

Under Martin, the FCC is again considering handing control of more local news outlets to massive media conglomerates by eliminating local ownership caps and the longstanding prohibition on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. The FCC has scheduled a public hearing on the possible changes in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.

"Ninety-seven percent of the public feedback received by the FCC in 2003 opposed further media consolidation, and more than 100,000 people have already filed comments this time around," Silver said. "Yet Chairman
Martin continues to push for rules that will let a small handful of companies swallow up more of our local media. Maybe he should start reading his own research."

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