WASHINGTON - October 19 - Local communities across the nation will be harmed, and have fewer choices for news and views, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) loosens key limits on media ownership, according to new research conducted by the Media and Democracy Coalition (MDC), a coalition of national and local groups representing millions of Americans.
Research was released today by MDC member organizations in coordinated actions in the following twelve states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Oregon, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana, and Maine. The research finds that in every one of those states, most citizens already live in highly concentrated media markets with few choices for news and views. More media mergers in these highly concentrated markets will reduce already insufficient local news coverage and eliminate diverse voices and viewpoints and, in every case, exceed US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Merger Guidelines. Yet these mergers would be approved by the FCC under its proposed new rules with "no questions asked."
"If Americans lose access to views and news, media moguls may grow richer, but America's democracy will be poorer," says Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause, an MDC member organization. "America's democracy works best when citizens have access to a wide diversity of views and plenty of local news. These are two of our nation's most important media policy goals."
"It is simply not acceptable that the Federal Communications Commission would approve a local media merger with 'no questions asked,' when that same merger exceeds US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Merger Guidelines," says Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal and international policy at Consumers Union, another MDC member. "A healthy democracy requires that local media outlets compete with each other, not consolidate, to ensure the public has access to diverse and independent sources of news and opinion. The FCC's proposed rules are bad for consumers and bad for democracy."
"Media moguls plan to combine local broadcasting with print, cable and telecommunications outlets to create conglomerates with unprecedented power over what we see, hear and read. This report documents that if the FCC blesses these moguls' plans, they will ultimately control which voices are heard -- and which are silenced -- across America," adds Ben Scott, Policy Director of Free Press, another MDC member.
"The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that further relaxation or elimination of media ownership limits by the FCC is not in the public interest," says study author Dr. Mark Cooper, Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America, another MDC member. "This research, taken together with the FCC's own research that it suppressed, proves that media concentration in local markets, consolidation into national chains, and conglomeration across media types all harm localism and diversity in local news markets. Local TV stations and local daily newspapers continue to be the dominant sources of local news and the most influential by far. The Internet is not a significant source of local news. In fact, the few who go online for local news frequently surf to the web sites of the local TV station or the local daily newspaper. The misguided rules the FCC proposed are simply out of touch with these facts."
"Media and Democracy Coalition member organizations in a dozen states today released this research as part of the Coalition's campaign to sound the alarm to citizens in local communities about the FCC's misguided proposed rules," says Coalition Campaign Coordinator Henry DeSio. "In 2003, the FCC received over three million public comments opposing its attempt to increase media concentration. This year, from Florida to Washington to Maine to California, Coalition members are again urging all Americans to take action, and file comments at the FCC opposing its latest dangerous effort to loosen crucial media ownership limits."
These are just a few examples of what could happen in large and small media markets across the country under the FCC's proposal to loosen media ownership limits:
Sacramento is the capital of California, the largest state in the nation, with a gross domestic product larger than Brazil, Canada, or Spain. In Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee, the dominant local newspaper, could suddenly merge with any of the top TV stations: KCRA, KXTV, KOVR or KTXL.
In Dallas, a large metropolitan market and the least concentrated of the three Texas markets studied, The Dallas Morning News, the dominant newspaper in the market, could suddenly merge with KDFW, KXAS, KTVT or KXAS, the top TV stations.
Erie, Pennsylvania is a smaller media market that is already highly concentrated, like most smaller markets studied. In Erie, the lone major newspaper, the Erie-Times News, could suddenly merge with either of the top local TV stations: WJET, WICU, or WSEE.
All of these resulting combinations exceed US Dept. of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Merger Guidelines on market concentration and power. Yet they would all be allowed under the FCC's proposed new rules with "no questions asked."
This MDC study is part of the Coalition's broader response to the FCC's proposed changes to its media ownership rules. In 2003, the FCC had voted to weaken these rules, but its action was rejected by the Philadelphia-based U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in an action brought by Coalition member Prometheus Radio Project of Philadelphia.
"Bigger, fewer media outlets with less interest in local news would be bad for Pennsylvania citizens trying to decide if we have effective local government and good corporate citizens," says Beth McConnell of Philadelphia-based PennPIRG, another MDC member, commenting on the study's findings in her state. "If the FCC proposal allowing our biggest local newspapers to merge with our biggest local TV stations goes forward, Pennsylvania citizens will end up getting inadequate choices for news and viewpoints in a market that already ranks as too-concentrated based on Department of Justice guidelines."
"We need more, not fewer media outlets in California competing in the marketplace of news and ideas to help guarantee that our communities go and grow," adds Sydney Levy of Oakland-based Media Alliance, another MDC member. "If the FCC allows these mergers, it will be harder for citizens to even learn about, let alone respond to, local issues such as crime, schools and traffic."
The Media and Democracy Coalition is an unincorporated affiliation of national, state and local consumer, public interest, organized labor and media reform organizations representing millions of Americans. It is committed to promoting vigorous competition, diversity of viewpoints, and localism in our national and local media. MDC accepts no corporate funding. Rather, its funding comes from foundations concerned about issues at the nexus of media and democracy. More information about the Coalition, its members, as well as these research reports, is available at the Coalition's website, http://www.media-democracy.net.