FCC Faces Flurry of Studies


The Media & Democracy Coalition, comprising a host of anti-media consolidation activist groups , plans to "dump 700-800 pages of studies into the FCC's media ownership proceeding that it says proves most media markets are already concentrated enough.

In a press conference Thursday announcing a study of a dozen states where the coalition is active, Mark Cooper, of the Consumer Federation of America, said that the study of 36 markets--state capitals, biggest city and small markets--showed that all were concentrated and that virtually all the smaller markets were highly concentrated according to the "currency" of communications, which he says is viewership (for an example, check out the L.A. executive summary).

Cooper said he also planned Monday--Oct. 23 is the deadline for media ownership comments--to submit studies to the FCC on the economics of consolidation and on allowing more multiple station ownership in markets--he's against it.

But the coalition's focus Thursday was on not allowing station owners to buy newspapers in the same market, a ban the FCC is looking to lift.

If that were allowed, said Cooper, the 50% viewer share of dominant market players in L.A.could escalate to 80%, which he said would be "disastrous for democracy." Cooper said that and other similar mergers that would be allowed under relaxed rules "violates Department of Justice standards, which should be a line in the sand."

When it tried to loosen some of the regulations on station ownership in 2003, the FCC weighted markets by the number of voices--cable, broadcast, satellite, newspaper, Internet--rather than viewers, something the coalition said should not happen this time around. It also pointed out that the Philadelphia appeals court that sent those 2003 rules back for better justification found the voice test wanting as well.

When asked whether the Internet should be factored into the concentration equation, Cooper argued that it is not a primary source of local news, and that the local ownership rules are about a diversity of local sources of news and information. Cooper said that maybe someday the Internet will be such an alternative, but that for now it is a good source of national and international news, but it doesn't help you figure out who to vote for for city council. And even its local component is often a trip to the Web site of the local TV station and newspaper.

The coalition, which has been working for state and local change as well as national policy, also announced that the Philadelphia City Council had just passed two resolutions, one opposing consolidation and calling for a public ownership hearing in the city, the other opposing video franchise reform.

It has been working on pushing local governments to join the push-back on ownership. Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said that two cities in Maine have passed resolutions supporting the coalition's Bill of Media Rights .

Broadcasters argue that further deregulation is vital for their survival in a world of burgeoning competition for ears and eyeballs: "

"We're hopeful that public policymakers recognize the seismic changes in the media landscape in the three decades since many of the media ownership rules were adopted," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.

"Broadcasters are not seeking elimination of all ownership rules. However, measured relaxation of regulations will preserve localism and ensure that free, high quality programming enjoyed daily by millions of Americans does not migrate to pay platforms."
NAB has not filed its ownership comments yet, but is on the record supporting lifting the newspaper/station crossownership ban and reforming the TV duopoly rule to allow multiple-station ownership in smaller markets.