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Deregulation cast in a positive light

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In a good omen for further deregulation, a series of Federal Communications Commission studies released last week suggests that previous rollbacks of the agency’s ownership restrictions have had little ill impact on consumers.
Watchdog group representatives have long contended that loosening regulations that limit media ownership runs afoul of the public interest by concentrating media power in too few hands.
But one FCC study released last week says the number of media outlets has skyrocketed since the restrictions were originally put into place and are up 195 percent since 1960.
The study also said that despite consolidation in the media industry the number of independent owners of media outlets is up 139 percent over the same period.
Other FCC-sponsored studies released last week found the following:
* The Internet is a substitute for broadcast TV;
* Financial interest and syndication rules did not improve program diversity, even though without rules networks tend to favor shows in which they have financial interests;
* Newspapers and TV stations owned in combination don’t necessarily adhere to the same political slant in covering elections;
* Network owned-and-operated stations produced 23 percent more local news and public affairs programming than affiliates;
* Affiliates owned by newspaper companies produced 47 percent more news and public affairs programming than other affiliates (21.9 hours a week compared with 14.9 hours);
* Increased concentration in broadcast markets is apt to result in commonly owned stations to beef up their advertising-to-programming ratios.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the studies represent the most comprehensive review of media ownership rules in the agency’s history.
“Collectively, these studies represent an unprecedented data-gathering effort to better understand market and consumer issues so that we may develop sound public policy,” Mr. Powell said.
But in a statement, the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy said the studies revealed a “flawed perspective” that ratifies Chairman Powell’s views.

In response, Michelle Russo, an FCC spokeswoman said: “It is irresponsible and disrespectful to question the integrity of FCC career professional staff.”
Comment on the studies is due Dec. 2 and is supposed to serve as the basis for any agency moves to loosen its ownership restrictions.