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New FCC Rules Get Thumbs Down

A study by the Pew Research Center finds that consumer knowledge of and opposition to the FCC decision to loosen media-ownership rules have increased since February.

In a nationwide survey of 1,201 adults in late June and early July, about half of respondents said they believe the decision will have a negative impact on the country, up from 34% in February. Ten percent believed the effect of the rule change would be positive. The FCC passed liberalized ownership rules on June 2.

Just under half the respondents said they were familiar with the rule changes—about double the previous survey result—although only 12% said they knew a lot about them. Of those, 70% thought the rule changes would be negative, compared with 6% who thought it would be positive.

"Knowledge of the issue has a strong impact on opposition [to the ownership-rule changes], That's clear," noted Pew Research Center Editor Carroll Doherty. "And there's more awareness now than in February, although it still hasn't become a front-burner issue for most Americans."

Does that mean that the networks conveniently failed to report on a story when coverage might have raised opposition to their own interests?

Not necessarily, says Andrew Tyndall, who monitors TV news coverage for his Tyndall Report. The coverage of the FCC rule change issue, he observes, was fairly typical at the news networks: an in-depth package prior to the announcement of the decision, with briefer coverage afterward. "Any conflict of interest aside, that would be normal for that type of regulatory decision." Important legislation typically "gets more coverage because it's debated. And Supreme Court decisions, like the one recently on affirmative action, are generally seen as more newsworthy than regulatory ones."

Where TV news gets more prolific, Tyndall notes, is in covering any train wrecks that result from a regulatory decision. "If a crisis happens, that will get big coverage."