FCC Releases First Wave of Ownership Studies

Author:
Publish date:

According to a just-released report to the FCC on what the effect of the
number of TV or radio voices in a market has on "civic engagement and
political knowledge," the answer is none. But a separate study on the
impact of market structure on range of viewpoints provided concludes
that "diversity of ownership is required to obtain diversity of
viewpoints," and a third on Internet news found that the 'net was not
the oft-touted  competitive outlet that would justify deregulating
broadcasting.

Those views were among those offered up to the FCC in the five (of 11) just-released media ownership studies
the FCC commissioned to inform its latest, congressionally-mandated
review of its media ownership rules. They deal with Internet news and
the affect of TV and radio market concentration on news and civic
engagement, as well as two on radio ownership.

In the study on
"How the Ownership Structure of Media Markets Affects Civic Engagement
and Political Knowledge," the conclusion was the following "In no case
do we find that the ownership structure of the local media market a
affects levels of civic or political engagement or knowledge." The
study, which was based on ownership data from 2005 through 2007 on
engagement and knowledge in 2006 and 2008, found significant variations
within markets that it said could be attributed to different political
contexts and Internet penetration, but that "cross-market variation is
not explained by the ownership structure in the market" to any
"appreciable degree."

But in the study on "A Theoretical Analysis
of the Impact of Local Market Structure on the Range of Viewpoints
Supplied," the authors concluded that six independent voices in a market
are better than four, and that "concerns for diversity and localism may
require ownership limits more stringent than would be justified by
conventional anti-trust analysis alone."

The study on Internet
news sites found that those sites have not become a major alternative
source of local news and that the reason is not just a revenue model
problem but a readership problem.  "For more than a decade, some have
suggested that the Internet and other technologies (such as cable
television) have made it less necessary to regulate broadcast media,"
the study concludes. Those "some" would include a lot of broadcasters
trying to get the commission to lighten their regulatory load.
"According to this reasoning," the report continues, "the Internet has
increased the number of local news and information outlets available to
citizens, strengthened news competition, and the broadened diversity of
news voices. Arguments that the Internet has expanded the number of
local news voices, or allowed new Web‐based news outlets to fill gaps in
news coverage, find little support in this data."

No word from
the commission on when the other six will be released, but a source said
they were all in the process of being reviewed or peer reviewed.

In
its rule review, the FCC is looking specifically at five rules: the
local TV ownership rule, the local radio ownership rule, the
newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV cross-ownership
rule, and the dual-network rule.

Studies for previous reviews
under former chairmen came under fire from congressional and commission
Democrats Michael Copps and former commissioner Jonathan Adelstein for
being used to support already-drawn conclusions, and for how the winning
bidders were chosen.

One of the FCC's mantras under Chairman
Julius Genachowski has been collecting good data before deciding how to
proceed on an issue. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said again at the
Cable Show in Chicago Wednesday when talking about his regulatory
philosophy in general that there were no "pre-cooked: solutions to tough
questions, which the media ownership rules have certainly posed.

They
have been in some form of regulatory or legal limbo for almost a decade
since then FCC Chairman and now NCTA president Michael Powell tried to
significantly loosen the regs.

The studies released were
Wednesday for public perusal and comment were: Media Ownership Study 3,
How the Ownership Structure of Media Markets Affects Civic Engagement
and Political Knowledge, 2006-2008, by Lynn Vavreck, Simon Jackman, and
Jeffrey B. Lewis; Media Ownership Study 5, Station Ownership and the
Provision and Consumption of Radio News, by Joel Waldfogel; Media
Ownership Study 7,

Radio Station Ownership Structure and the
Provision of Programming to Minority Audiences: Evidence from 2005-2009,
by Joel Waldfogel; Media Ownership Study 6, Less of the Same: The Lack
of Local News on the Internet, by Matthew Hindman; and Media Ownership
Study 9, A Theoretical Analysis of the Impact of Local Market Structure
on the Range of Viewpoints Supplied, by Isabelle Brocas, Juan D.
Carrillo, and Simon Wilkie. PDFs of all the released studies are
available here.

Related