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Rollback of FCC Media Ownership Rules Vital

January 14, 2004
Mark Cooper, CFA, (301) 384-2204
Susan Herold, CU, (202) 462-6262


(Washington, D.C.) – A new national poll showing that Americans still overwhelmingly rely on TV and newspapers for their news about the presidential campaign supports consumer group findings that the Federal Communications Commission used unrealistic measures in calculating its “Diversity Index” for media ownership limits.
“The FCC decided to allow TV stations to own newspapers in the same city because it claimed that radio and the Internet combined have as much importance as TV as a source of information, but this survey shows that TV is between three and five times more important than those sources,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, director of research of the Consumer Federation of America.
Adds Gene Kimmelman, senior policy director of Consumers Union, “Because of the importance of mass media in the democratic debate, the FCC must devise ownership rules based on clear and consistent facts about market realities, not selective, inconsistent concepts that don’t pass the laugh test.”
The Jan. 11 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found traditional media – TV and newspapers – still dominate the campaign landscape (see attached Exhibit 1):
● Television is still the No. 1 source of news by far, mentioned by two-thirds to three-quarters of the respondents.
● Newspapers are second, mentioned by 15 to 25 percent of respondents.
● TV and Newspapers combined account for about four-fifths of the main sources mentioned.
● Radio remains the third most frequent source, mentioned by fewer than 10 percent of respondents.
● Internet has grown, but still is a distant fourth, mentioned by only 6-8 percent of respondents.
CFA and CU are arguing in the Third Circuit Appeals Court that the Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules are dangerous to media localism, diversity and independence because they allow ownership of TV and newspaper outlets to be concentrated in too few hands. The court stayed the rules and will hear oral arguments in the case Feb. 11 in Philadelphia.
Comparing the Pew results to the weights used by the FCC Diversity Index shows that the index is far off the mark (see Exhibit 2), since radio and the Internet are being given importance that is between two and three times what the Pew survey data indicates they deserve.
Even the growth of the Internet is questionable as a rationale (see Exhibit 3), since the most frequently visited Web sites are simply the online versions of traditional media, television stations and newspapers.
Based on the Diversity Index, the FCC rules would raise the number of television stations that a single company can own from 35 percent of the nation’s households to 45 percent, allowing mergers between TV stations in over 160 media markets representing 90 percent of the American viewing public. They also would lift a ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in most markets, allowing TV/newspaper mergers in over 190 media markets representing 98 percent of Americans.
Since then, the Senate overturned the new FCC rules, and the House overturned parts of them, citing the resulting problems with localism and diversity in the media if they were carried out. However, that rollback was significantly weakened in the $820 billion omnibus appropriations bill to be considered when the Senate returns Jan. 20 – the language now allows a single company to own TV stations reaching 39 percent of the national audience.
“Everyone acknowledges – even the FCC – that media localism and diversity require numerous independently owned outlets that offer local news,” Kimmelman added. “Yet the FCC in issuing its new rules deserted those findings and focused almost exclusively on outlets, not owners, entertainment not news, and national, not local programming.”
To read the citizen petitioner brief filed in the Third Circuit case by the Prometheus Radio Project, CLICK HERE.
To read the Jan. 11 Pew survey, go to http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=200