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FCC reliance on industry data under fire

An industry-watchdog group Thursday will release a report culled from a
65,000-item database tracking ownership information on nearly every broadcast
station, cable system and telephone company in America.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the data show that "behemoths
such as Viacom [Inc.], Clear Channel [Communications Inc.] and Comcast [Corp.] already dominate many of the nation's
media markets, even as the Federal Communications Commission moves to further relax media-ownership rules."

The report also condemns the FCC's practice of using industry-supplied data
to justify the pending deregulation proposal, slated to be approved June 2.

"The report is astonishing because it reveals more than ever before just how
incestuous the relationship is between the Federal Communications Commission and
the broadcasting and cable industries it is supposed to regulate," said Charles
Lewis, the center's executive director. "The idea that the FCC can render an
objective, independent judgment about media ownership is laughable."

Lewis claimed that the report "tells us more about the state of media ownership in
America -- and the impotence of federal regulators -- than any other previous

Bob Williams, the center's researcher on the project, said he needed 10
months to build an information base from FCC-supplied raw data, such as
engineering reports filed by stations.

Rather than taking on such a project itself, the FCC generally relies on data
supplied by industry companies such as Kagan World Media, BIA Financial Network Inc., Arbitron Inc. and Nielsen Media Research.

"I've never seen a government body that relied on noninternal data to make
decisions in the public interest," he said.

Accompanying the ownership data is a report on the media industry's funding
of 2,500 FCC staff and commissioner trips to conventions and other events, costing $2.8 million over the past eight years.

"The officials often serve as speakers or panelists at the events, but many
times ... stay for the entire event at glitzy hotels such as the Bellagio in Las
Vegas, even though they are only scheduled to give a single speech or serve on a
single panel," the report said.

Lewis and his report will be featured on NOW with Bill Moyers May 23 on