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Groups to FCC: Public needs diverse & competitive sources for local news and information

Consumers Union * Consumer Federation of America * Free Press

Monday, October 23, 2006
Jennifer Fuson, CU, 202.462.6262 ext. 1121or
Craig Aaron, Free Press, 202-202-265-1490 ext. 25
Consumer/Citizen Groups to FCC: Public Needs Diverse and Competitive Sources for Local News and Information
Further Media Consolidation Threatens Democracy

Washington, DC—Consumer and citizen groups emphasized the critical link between democracy and an open and independent media in detailed comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission today on a proposed loosening of media ownership rules.
In more than 800 pages of comments and studies submitted by Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Free Press, the groups urged the FCC to adopt media ownership rules that encourage diverse viewpoints and ensure access to competitive independent sources of local news and information.
“Our data blows holes in past FCC arguments for loosening media ownership limits. The facts are straightforward. A vast majority of Americans still rely on locally owned television stations and newspapers as their most important source for local news and information. Cable and Internet are no substitutes,” said Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal and international policy for Consumers Union.
Studies submitted as part of the detailed comments show that in markets with fewer dominant media companies, independent and local media outlets competing against each other are more likely to air diverse opinions and provide more ownership opportunities for minorities.
“The FCC needs to recognize these essential facts and support an open and robust media. Our very democracy depends on it,” added Kimmelman.
The groups’ formal comments rebut claims that ownership limits on conventional media are unnecessary in the Internet age. The comments include new survey data showing that an overwhelming 88 percent of people still rely on local newspapers, TV stations, weeklies, and radio as most important sources of local news, despite growth of the Internet. While the Internet is a source for news, evidence shows its influence is minor and only supplements conventional media. The majority of those who use the Internet for news access websites of traditional media sources like the daily newspapers and TV stations.
The groups also provided analysis of the impact of media concentration on women and minority ownership and local news coverage. Their data demonstrate that women own only roughly 5 percent of all stations, while accounting for 51 percent of the population. Minorities own 3¼ percent of all stations while accounting for 33 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, the research also shows that minority owned stations produce local news content at higher levels than non-minority owned stations.
“According to our research, further consolidation and concentration will likely result in fewer minority-owned stations and fewer stations airing local news content,” said Ben Scott, Policy Director of Free Press. The FCC must consider the negative effects of consolidation on minority owners and viewers before adopting rules that permit greater market concentration,” added Scott.
The groups said that loosening ownership restrictions will result in less local news coverage. Out-of-town newspapers do not report many of the important stories that matter to the local audience and often do not reflect the local reality. In one study, the groups found that coverage of Hurricane Katrina by locally owned media exceeded that offered by non-locally owned media serving the same viewing area.
The groups also submitted media market analysis for 13 states showing further mergers among leading media outlets would clearly violate existing federal merger guideline thresholds for excessive market control.
“There is simply no evidence that supports permitting further media consolidation—no justification in law, economics, or social policy,” said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. “The cornerstone of the FCC’s argument to relax ownership limits is that consolidation is in the public interest. The evidence to the contrary is very clear,” said Cooper. “Stations that consolidate don’t produce more news, they produce less. And diversity of news and opinion from the most influential media declines. The record is clear. More consolidation hurts our democracy without any discernible benefits.”
To learn more about the comments and summary findings, go to www.HearUsNow.org