Here we go again.
Another Federal Communications Commission study on the negative impacts of media consolidation came to light Monday after being buried at the agency for at least two years -- the second suppressed FCC ownership study to surface in as many weeks.
It's clear that FCC's top brass are willing to deep-six any research that contradicts the media industry's pro-consolidation claims. In fine bureaucratic fashion, neither former Chairman Michael Powell nor current Chairman Kevin Martin has accepted responsibility for the alleged cover-up. In the minds of both of them, it's better we all forget about it so the FCC can return to its work of handing out billions of dollars in monopoly privileges to massive media firms.
The recently spiked study, a "Review of the Radio Industry" conducted by the FCC Media Bureau, found that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 had led to a drastic decline in the number of radio station owners -- even as the actual number of commercial stations in the United States had increased.
A copy of the study is available at http://www.stopbigmedia.com/files/radio_ownership.pdf
Although the study would have been the fifth of its kind since the 1996 Act -- which lifted national radio ownership caps -- it was never released, and no subsequent studies on the topic have been conducted. It only became public after a copy was leaked to the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Last week, Jonathan Rintels reported here that Boxer also uncovered a buried federal study that showed media consolidation is harmful to local news reporting. The 2004 report found that locally owned stations produced - on average -- five minutes more local news coverage in a half-hour newscast than their consolidated competitors.
Upon seeing the results, senior managers at the FCC ordered that "every last piece" of that study be destroyed, according to the Associated Press.
The unraveling controversy has been met with the standard denials from both FCC chairmen. Powell told NPR on Friday that he "never saw" the study. "Any suggestion that senior levels of the commission spiked that report, at least from my vantage point, didn't happen." In a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Martin repeated that he knew nothing of the study: "I was not Chairman at the time that this report was drafted. I had not seen -- nor was I aware of -- this draft report ... No one on my staff had seen this report nor were they aware of it. I am not aware of any other commissioners, past or present, who knew of the report."
Members of the StopBigMedia.com Coalition have sent a letter to Chairman Kevin Martin to "immediately seek an independent investigation, through the Office of the Inspector General, to determine the circumstances under which the public was denied access to this important, taxpayer-funded research, the parties involved and the processes that may have allowed any record of its existence to be destroyed."
Under Martin, the FCC is again considering handing control of more local news outlets to massive media conglomerates by eliminating local ownership caps and the longstanding prohibition on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership.
Ninety-seven percent of the public feedback received by the FCC in 2003 opposed further media consolidation, and more than 100,000 people have already filed comments this time around. Yet Chairman Martin continues to push for rules that will let a small handful of companies swallow up more of our local media.
Maybe Kevin Martin should start reading his own research.
He and the agency's GOP majority are continuing Powell's plan to gut the last remaining limits to local media conglomerates, but before he can proceed, Chairman Martin has promised to hold at least six public hearings, to make a show of his planned rule changes with average citizens. So far he has scheduled only one - in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.
There needs to be an independent investigation and a full review of all research conducted under the leadership of both Powell and Martin.