Push for tight regs

Studies say media rules 'discriminatory'

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has “discriminatory” media ownership rules and is failing in its responsibility to promote diversity, new academic studies and a former FCC commissioner said.

Instead of loosening ownership rules, as the agency has indicated it would, the FCC should be tightening them, they added.

Studies were released Monday by two public interest groups, the Benton Foundation and the Social Science Research Council. In a joint statement, the orgs declared, “Media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, (findings) strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened, not relaxed.”

The commission is undergoing a quadrennially required review of ownership rules, which chairman Kevin J. Martin has said he’d like to ease since the market has changed extensively during the more than 20 years they’ve been in place. Studies were filed as part of the public comment period, which closed Monday afternoon.

“The FCC has said more cross-ownership will produce more local news and public affairs programming,” said Phil Napoli, a professor at Fordham U. and author of one study, in a telephone press conference. “But the results of our study show that cross-ownership is not related to the quantity of local news provided.”

Carolyn Byerly, who teaches journalism at Howard U. and authored two other studies, said since women and minorities own “miniscule” numbers of broadcast stations — less than 4% of the total in either case — “women and minorities are being left out of the public discourse. FCC ownership rules are therefore discriminatory,” she concluded.

“Our laws require a diverse media,” said Benton president and former FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani. “The FCC is failing to put into place incentives for women and minorities to own media.”

U. of Michigan’s Peter DiCola studied radio markets where some companies have been able to exploit a loophole to acquire more stations than normally allowed.

“Large station groups in excess of the local ownership cap do not offer more variety,” he said. “They offer less, and the FCC should not raise the local ownership caps in the expectation that large station groups will suddenly change their ways.”

Studies come in the wake of similar reports released last week by other public interest groups and filed with the FCC’s public comment docket. The agency received some 123,000 comments.

Media congloms, which endorse easing ownership restrictions, have suggested issues such as diversity and localism may be red herrings. They “divert attention from the main issue — the marketplace changes that require the FCC to change these rules,” said one company exec. The regs are outdated because of the massive proliferation of outlets on cable television as well as, more recently, the Internet, the exec added.

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