Monday, July 25, 2011

FCC looks at media ownership policy changes

The FCC recently released a number of studies as part of their mandated regular review of media ownership rules.  A number support changing long-standing cross-ownership rules, in particular the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.  Three of the studies suggest there is little evidence that newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership has a negative impact on the amount of news produced in local markets, and "statistically significant." evidence that cross-ownership has a positive "correlation" on local news.  One study goes so far as the call for repeal of the ban.  Now, these aren't necessarily very strong indications of either negative or positive impacts, but should at least put consideration of lifting the ban on the table.
From my own perspective, the ban originated when newspapers were the dominant media, and local broadcasters carried very little news.  The argument for the ban was to limit a newspaper from dominating local media and precluding competition by buying and subsidizing local stations.  Today, you're much more likely to see a lifting of the ban allowing local broadcasters to buy and subsidize newspapers.  My approach would be to lift the ban, as long as neither the broadcast stations nor newspapers are the only ones in the market.
Another aspect of the ownership rules being studied is allowing companies to own multiple stations in the same market.  Initially, the FCC allowed broadcasters to own only one station per service (AM, FM, and TV were considered as separate services).  The 1996 Telecomm Act authorized broadcasters to own multiple stations in a market - the actual numbers varying by market size.  A major underlying rationale was the collapse of AM radio markets and the likelihood that many would go under and cease broadcasting - the FCC argued that allowing multiple ownership would let broadcasters use FM service profits to cross-subsidize failing AM outlets.  Critics were concerned that multiple-ownership would have the effect of reducing carriage of news and local public affairs programming.  The current studies, however, show that owning multiple stations in a market does not reduce public affairs programming, and actually seems to have a positive impact on the mix of local and national news provided.  That's in line with an old study of mine.
The FCC is waiting for final versions of three other studies, for a total of 10, before opening the period for public comment on the policy and any proposed changes.

Source: "FCC Releases Three More Ownership Studies," Broadcasting &  Cable
The FCC has posted a number of studies affiliated with the review at this link..

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