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FCC’s Media Consolidation Studies Draw Fire

The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday unveiled 10 new studies on media consolidation issues, and it didn’t take long for consolidation critics to attack both them and the agency.

Within hours of the FCC’s announcement of the studies and a plan to give the public 60 days to comment on them, Democratic FCC commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan Adelstein questioned whether the public comment period was being rushed.

“This is unfair, unnecessary and ultimately unwise—inviting public, congressional and judicial outrage reminiscent of what happened when the FCC tried to loosen media ownership rules four years ago,” they warned in a joint statement.

“The commission’s action today does not inspire confidence that this time around we are serious about getting it right.”

Consumers Union, meanwhile, issued a statement calling the studies “biased research” and “highly disturbing.”

The 10 studies are an attempt to approach ownership questions scientifically. Individual studies examine how people get their news and information based on Nielsen data; ownership and what it means for the robustness of programming; how news operations are affected by market size; the effects of media cross-ownership; and the impact of duopolies on ownership of stations by women and minorities.
The latest studies offer some controversial conclusions.

A study of markets with cross-ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station says stations owned by newspapers offer more news than those that are not, but doesn’t say if the news presented is the same offered by the local paper. Critics of consolidation contend that cross-ownership leaves viewers with fewer choices for information, hurting public discourse.

A study of duopolies—two stations in a market owned by one company—says companies owning two stations showed more news on their stations than companies owning one, but doesn’t make clear if the same newscasts or reports are being re-aired or repackaged or if different news is presented.

The release of the studies and the start of the 60-day clock on comments puts the FCC on track for unveiling new ownership rules early next year. The FCC is almost finished with its public hearings on ownership.

(Editor: Horowitz)

Comments (1)

Bob Abrahams:

While too much media consolidation would likely reduce the choices for information (can you say "Wall Street Journal"?), repetitious news doesn't necessarily come only from consolidation.

In Los Angeles, it's not unusual to see a story in the (Tribune-owned) Los Angeles Times and then the same story the next day on one of the televsion stations - and not on the Tribune-owned KTLA-TV, but rather on one of the other stations. It could be they got the same new release, or it could be "copy-cat" journalism. And it's quite common for KABC-TV, which does not own other newspapers or TV stations in L.A. to repeat feature stories not only several times during the week, but again on their weekend newscasts.

At the same time, the KCBS-TV/KCAL-TV combined news operation results in local news being available on one channel or the other almost any time during the day during the week.

So here in Los Angeles, where we have quite a few news sources, even with some consolidation, this doesn't seem to be a problem at this point. I suppose in smaller markets, where four TV stations could be owned by two companies (and one might also own the one newspaper) the limited points of view night be more of an issue.

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