Martin Seeking Source of Mystery Paper

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FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's office says that neither he nor anyone had seen a 2004 FCC "working paper" that concludes that local ownership means more local news, a finding the report says "may have policy indications for both the Congress and the FCC.

The report surfaced at Martin's renomination hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday.

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer produced a copy of the report and asked who suppressed it. She was complaining that after three years, the FCC had still not completed a proceeding on local ownership. The proceeding was launched by FCC Chairman Michael Powell as part of his effort to pass deregualtory media ownership rules.

The Martin FCC is reviewing those rules, under the orders of a federal court, and the new chairman has pledged to include the information in that uncompleted proceeding as part of that overall review. Democrats on the commission have argued that completing that proceeding before rewriting the rules is crucial.

Martin pointed out to Boxer that when the report was issued in June 2004, Michael Powell, not he, was chairman, and that he would now examine the report.

According to a copy of the report obtained by B&C, its findings "suggest that locally-owned television broadcast stations air more local news than network owned and operated and nonlocally-owned stations." That was a suggestion that angered the networks several years ago when some broadcasters, arguing for retention of the national ownership cap, suggested that disparity.

The study says that local stations provide almost five and a half minutes more local news per half-hour.

Their conclusion: "[T]he FCC media ownership rule-makings and subsequent congressional action may affect the composition of local news broadcasts."

A spokeswoman for the chairman said he is trying to figure out who authored the report, but reiterated that before the hearing, neither he nor his staff knew anything about it.

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