Cross-Ownership Opponents’ Study: Local Media Markets Already Too Concentrated

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Media ownership is already so concentrated in even the biggest markets that removing the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership would devastate the diversity of local news and opinion, according to a study released Thursday afternoon by a coalition opposed to changes in cross-ownership rules.

The Media and Democracy Coalition released the results of a study of markets in 12 states that it says makes the case that the cross-ownership ban imposed in 1975 should remain in place.

“Virtually every market studied is already concentrated (in terms of media ownership), and most are highly concentrated,” the study’s author, Mark Cooper, said in a telephone press conference. Cooper is the director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2003 overturned the media cross-ownership ban and eased other media ownership regulations — only to be told by a federal appeals court to go back to the drawing board. The study’s evidence is so compelling that the FCC should decide to keep the ban, coalition members said.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin heads a 3-2 Republican majority on the commission, and has spoken often of his desire to eliminate the ban.

The coalition’s research focused on 12 states, including such large states as California, Texas and Pennsylvania, and looked at both big and small markets inside the states.

The studied measured the audiences for daily and weekly newspapers, and radio and TV stations. It measured the “concentration” of ownership based on this audience now, and if the dominant newspaper were permitted to buy the number-one TV station. That market share is then compared to the Department of Justice Merger Guidelines.

“The results are stark,” Cooper wrote in the study of California’s markets. “We find that California citizens already face highly concentrated markets with few choices of news and views. Possible mergers would only make matters (worse), risking both localism and democracy. Even in Los Angeles, one of the largest and least concentrated markets in the country, any cross media merger involving the top two firms would increase concentration in excess of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Merger Guidelines. In the smaller markets, the outlook is even worse.”

At the press conference, Cooper said what the FCC has to do “is simply do the math, do it honestly, count who reads, count who listens, and when you weigh those media according to their influence — and let’s be clear, the most important media that are providing local news is the newspaper and the TV stations — you find virtually every market is already concentrated.”

The coalition — which was one of several grassroots organizations that emerged three years ago as the FCC was finishing up the re-writing of media rules — said citizen opposition to changes in media ownership restrictions is even more passionate this time around.

Ben Cooper, policy director of the organization Free Press said that its ownership town meetings, often attended by the two Democratic FCC members who oppose rewriting the rules, have attracted hundreds of people.

“It’s a pretty simple equation — it’s about localism,” Cooper said. “People understand that it matters if the owners of media (outlets) live in their town. The health of our democracy thrives on a democratic debate, and we need a diversity of opinions in the public place. The evidence we’re talking about here — legal, economic and social science — all this evidence backs what the public knows intuitively, that media ownership matters.”

Keeping cross-ownership is valuable to consumers, who need a variety of local voices to make choices about government policies and officials, and even about other media outlets, said Gene Kimmelman, vice president of Consumers Union.

“We’re stronger than ever before in making the case for strong rules on media ownership,” Kimmelman said. “I believe these actions today, and what is to come, will make it impossible for the FCC to do what they did in 2003.”

The complete study is available here.

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