FCC Ownership Review Sparks Controversy

Nov 22, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership review erupted into new controversy Wednesday as the panel’s Media Bureau announced it would launch 10 ownership issue studies and drew quick attack from the two Democratic commissioners.

Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein suggested they weren’t fully consulted and that the FCC was using Thanksgiving eve to downplay a key element in the media review.

“Today’s announcement, unfortunately, raises more questions than it answers,” said Commissioner Copps, questioning how contractors were selected and funded and whether study topics are specific enough.

“When the majority of the previous FCC voted to loosen the ownership rules in 2003, a federal court took them to task for inadequate justification. My hope has been that the commission would not head off on the same tangent again — especially at a time when many people already doubt the credibility of the research we do.”

Commissioner Adelstein said the “unilateral” release on Thanksgiving eve “undermines the public’s confidence.”

“The descriptions of the studies are scant, lacking any sense of the commission’s expectations for scope, proposed methodology and data sources,” he said.

Rebecca Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Media Bureau, said, “The list of studies was developed in consultation with all the commissioners’ offices over a lengthy period of time.”

The Media Bureau said the 10 studies would be conducted by staff and professors and one by Nielsen Media Research.

The Nielsen study, called “How People Get News and Information,” will survey consumers about their use of media and will look at where consumers get their news and whether the sources change by time or day or day of week.

Other studies will look at changes in the media since the FCC last reviewed media ownership and the impact of those changes on the quality and quantity of different kinds of programming, including local news and public affairs; the size and scope of news operations of radio, TV and newspapers in individual markets and how ownership affects their robustness; levels of minority ownership and barriers to entry; the impact of cross-ownership on news operations; impacts of vertical integration; and the impacts of ownership on radio programming.

The FCC in 2002 under former chairman Michael Powell did 12 studies on media ownership, including a similar study by Nielsen.