Four new academic studies were presented at a news conference today under the headline, Does Bigger Media Equal Better Media? (MediaOwnershipReport). The new research focuses on how the concentration of media ownership affects media content, from local news reporting to radio music programming, and how minority groups have fared – as both media outlet owners and as historically undeserved audiences — in an increasingly deregulated media environment. Sponsored by the Social Science Research Council (an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1923 to bring research to bear on public problems) and the Benton Foundation, these papers show that media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened, not relaxed. The studies have been filed with the FCC during its initial public comment period (which ended today) while reexamining media ownership restrictions. “These results cast significant doubt on the logic that cross-ownership can promote greater availability of important types of local programming such as news and public affairs.” said Dr. Phil Napoli of the McGannon Research Center at Fordham University, who presented one of the studies. The four papers examine key relationships between ownership, programming, and community impact:
- Peter DiCola, of the University of Michigan and the Future of Music Coalition, examined how the concentration of radio station ownership affects the diversity of music programming. The purpose of the study was to answer the question, “Do radio companies offer more variety when they exceed the local ownership cap?” DiCola found that “those station groups that came to exceed the local ownership caps focus their programming primarily on just six types of formats: news, adult contemporary, rock, classic rock, country, and top 40.” He concludes: “Large station groups in excess of the local ownership cap do not offer more variety — they offer less — and the FCC should not raise the local ownership caps in the expectation that large station groups will suddenly change their ways.”
- Dr. Carolyn Byerly of Howard University examined FCC data on minority and women-owned media. She found that women and minority ownership is really miniscule. According to incomplete FCC data, women hold a majority interest in only 3.4 percent of broadcast stations, and minorities own a majority interest in only 3.6 percent of stations. “FCC policy has done almost nothing to open access to the airwaves for women and minorities,” Byerly said. “Communication policy must include ways for women and minority groups to acquire more stations in communities of all sizes.”
- Byerly, along with her colleagues Jamila A. Cupid and Kehbuma Langmia, also examined minority perspectives on the media coverage of minority communities, drawing on 196 interviews with African-Americans, Africans, Latinos and Asians in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland. They found that television is the preferred source for news, and the 20 percent who use radio news overwhelmingly preferred stations that were minority-owned, because these stations “tell us the truth” and “know what is really going on.” “FCC policy needs to ensure that stations pay attention to public affairs issues relevant to minority communities,” Byerly said, “as well as to expand minority media ownership.”
- Michael Yan of the University of Michigan analyzed the relationship between newspaper and television cross-ownership and the provision of local news and public affairs programming. The purpose of the study was to test the assertion that has that allowing cross-ownership will produce more local news and public affairs programming than other stations. To the contrary, the study finds that cross-ownership is not related to the quantity of local news provided. Similarly, the study shows that cross-ownership is not related to the quantity of public affairs programming.