Consumer Groups: FCC Rules Underestimate Newspapers

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The importance of newspapers as a source of local news was played down in FCC studies that provided the rationale for loosening media merger rules, consumer groups charged Thursday.

A new survey commissioned by Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America found that newspapers are more than twice as important a source for local news than the FCC determined when it allowed mergers between TV stations and their local newspapers in June.

"Since newspapers are a much more important source for local news than the FCC gives them credit for, and TV is the second most important source, mergers between these two effectively eliminate diversity of viewpoints and competition of ideas in our local media, which is exactly what the FCC is supposed to protect," said Gene Kimmelman, CU senior policy director.

The consumer groups say their new data bolsters their case to overturn the new rules, which allow newspaper/TV station combinations in roughly 90% of U.S. markets. The federal appeals court in Philadelphia hears oral argument in court challenges to the FCC’s new broadcast ownership rules February 11.

"The public believes by a four-to-one-margin that mergers between newspapers and TV stations would reduce editorial diversity, so why didn’t the FCC care what matters to people?"

To craft the new rules, the FCC gave newspapers a weight of 29% in its diversity index, a formula used to decide in what size markets broadcast/newspaper combos should be permitted. But the groups’ survey shows newspapers are actually the most important and frequent source of local news for approximately 61% of respondents.

The groups said the FCC dramatically overweighted the importance of the Internet and radio, giving them a combined weight of 37%, when instead they deserved only 10%.

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