Markey Releases GAO Letter on Media Ownership

Government Accountability Office: ‘Reliable Data on Ownership by Minorities and Women Are Lacking’

A Government Accountability Office study on media ownership isn't due to be released until early next year, but House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who commissioned the study, got the GAO to weigh in early with some of its conclusions, which include that "reliable data on ownership by minorities and women are lacking," but that such ownership is "limited."

It also found that programming-sharing agreements between stations suggest that the number of independently owned outlets might not always be a good indicator of how many independently produced shows there are.

The early returns from the report were hardly eye-openers, nor particularly damning of consolidation.

But Free Press saw the report as ammunition for its fight against consolidation. “This report confirms that female and minority media ownership is in a state of crisis -- the direct result of the Federal Communications Commission’s failure to uphold its mandate to foster media diversity," said Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. "The simple fact is that chairman Kevin Martin's FCC has never bothered to even count the number of female and minority owners, much less study the impact of media consolidation on ownership levels.”

It's findings included that "stakeholders representing business interests were more likely to support deregulatory positions while nonbusiness stakeholders were more likely to support enhancing or leaving existing rules in place," that "the numbers of media outlets and owners of media outlets generally increase with the size of the market, although operating agreements may reduce the effective number of independent outlets," that "markets with large populations have more television and radio stations and newspapers than less-populated markets" and that both sides of the media-ownership argument agreed with reinstating a repealed tax-certificate program that would give tax breaks to companies that sell media outlets to minorities.

Markey is trying to postpone, or at least influence, a planned Dec. 18 vote on Martin's proposal to modify the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, to adopt items relating to diversity and localism and to close the book on the years-long review.

In the letter from the GAO to Markey, which the congressman posted on his Web page, the GAO said it conducted interviews with industry members and government policymakers and did case studies in 16 markets to reach its conclusions.

“If the FCC proceeds with a vote tomorrow on media-ownership issues," Markey said, "I urge all of the commissioners to weigh carefully the impact of any new rules or waiver standards on the historic policy values of diversity and localism."

Martin has proposed a number of diversity initiatives, including the tax-certificate policy, many of which were proposed by the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council. He also proposed boosting localism by requiring broadcasters to more fully report, for the FCC to more easily gauge, how much local news and other programming they are doing.

But for most deregulation opponents, any more deregulation, such as loosening the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, is too much. They also want the FCC to complete independent inquiries on the effect of the consolidation already undertaken on program diversity and localism.