Former FCC Head Powell Responds to Report Flap

Sep 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said he knows nothing about the quashing of an agency study that would have undercut his push to loosen media ownership rules.

The 2004 study, unveiled by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at a Senate hearing Tuesday, was produced under Mr. Powell as part of the FCC’s look into how media-ownership affects television news programming.

The study said that locally owned stations average 5.5 more minutes of local news per half hour of news than stations owned by distant media companies. That finding would have conflicted with the FCC’s push at the time to ease media ownership rules and allow more out-of-town ownership of stations.

“He said he never saw the report, never heard of it until yesterday and never ordered it destroyed,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Powell said Friday.

Adam Candeub, a law professor at Michigan State University who worked under Mr. Powell as a lawyer in the FCC Media Bureau, told Television Week yesterday that agency officials came into the office one day and told the two researchers to halt work work on the study.

“They said that the project was dead, and to delete computer records,” Mr. Candeub said, adding that the researchers had spent considerable time going through tapes of TV station news broadcasts to analyze their content.

Mr. Candeub’s suggestion that the project was killed and “every last piece” of the study ordered destroyed was first reported by the Associated Press.

Sen. Boxer has demanded an explanation from current FCC chairman Kevin Martin and consumer groups are asking for a probe by the FCC’s Office of Inspector General.

Mr. Martin, who has said neither he nor his staff had seen the study before Tuesday, moved quickly to add the study’s contents to the FCC’s current examination of localism.

The controversy could put more pressure on the FCC to complete the study on so-called localism in broadcasting before making any changes in media ownership rules.

The study was part of the efforts of a localism task force launched by Mr. Powell in 2003 supposedly to “advise the commission on steps it can take … that would strengthen localism in broadcasting.”