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FCC Releases First Wave of Ownership Studies

According to a just-released report to the FCC on what the effect of the number of TV or radio voices in a market has on "civic engagement and political knowledge," the answer is none. But a separate study on the impact of market structure on range of viewpoints provided concludes that "diversity of ownership is required to obtain diversity of viewpoints," and a third on Internet news found that the 'net was not the oft-touted  competitive outlet that would justify deregulating broadcasting.

Those views were among those offered up to the FCC in the five (of 11) just-released media ownership studies the FCC commissioned to inform its latest, congressionally-mandated review of its media ownership rules. They deal with Internet news and the affect of TV and radio market concentration on news and civic engagement, as well as two on radio ownership.

In the study on "How the Ownership Structure of Media Markets Affects Civic Engagement and Political Knowledge," the conclusion was the following "In no case do we find that the ownership structure of the local media market a affects levels of civic or political engagement or knowledge." The study, which was based on ownership data from 2005 through 2007 on engagement and knowledge in 2006 and 2008, found significant variations within markets that it said could be attributed to different political contexts and Internet penetration, but that "cross-market variation is not explained by the ownership structure in the market" to any "appreciable degree."

But in the study on "A Theoretical Analysis of the Impact of Local Market Structure on the Range of Viewpoints Supplied," the authors concluded that six independent voices in a market are better than four, and that "concerns for diversity and localism may require ownership limits more stringent than would be justified by conventional anti-trust analysis alone."

The study on Internet news sites found that those sites have not become a major alternative source of local news and that the reason is not just a revenue model problem but a readership problem.  "For more than a decade, some have suggested that the Internet and other technologies (such as cable television) have made it less necessary to regulate broadcast media," the study concludes. Those "some" would include a lot of broadcasters trying to get the commission to lighten their regulatory load. "According to this reasoning," the report continues, "the Internet has increased the number of local news and information outlets available to citizens, strengthened news competition, and the broadened diversity of news voices. Arguments that the Internet has expanded the number of local news voices, or allowed new Web‐based news outlets to fill gaps in news coverage, find little support in this data."

No word from the commission on when the other six will be released, but a source said they were all in the process of being reviewed or peer reviewed.

In its rule review, the FCC is looking specifically at five rules: the local TV ownership rule, the local radio ownership rule, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV cross-ownership rule, and the dual-network rule.

Studies for previous reviews under former chairmen came under fire from congressional and commission Democrats Michael Copps and former commissioner Jonathan Adelstein for being used to support already-drawn conclusions, and for how the winning bidders were chosen.

One of the FCC's mantras under Chairman Julius Genachowski has been collecting good data before deciding how to proceed on an issue. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said again at the Cable Show in Chicago Wednesday when talking about his regulatory philosophy in general that there were no "pre-cooked: solutions to tough questions, which the media ownership rules have certainly posed.

They have been in some form of regulatory or legal limbo for almost a decade since then FCC Chairman and now NCTA president Michael Powell tried to significantly loosen the regs.

The studies released were Wednesday for public perusal and comment were: Media Ownership Study 3, How the Ownership Structure of Media Markets Affects Civic Engagement and Political Knowledge, 2006-2008, by Lynn Vavreck, Simon Jackman, and Jeffrey B. Lewis; Media Ownership Study 5, Station Ownership and the Provision and Consumption of Radio News, by Joel Waldfogel; Media Ownership Study 7,

Radio Station Ownership Structure and the Provision of Programming to Minority Audiences: Evidence from 2005-2009, by Joel Waldfogel; Media Ownership Study 6, Less of the Same: The Lack of Local News on the Internet, by Matthew Hindman; and Media Ownership Study 9, A Theoretical Analysis of the Impact of Local Market Structure on the Range of Viewpoints Supplied, by Isabelle Brocas, Juan D. Carrillo, and Simon Wilkie. PDFs of all the released studies are available here.