New Research Casts a Critical Eye on Media Consolidation
WASHINGTON -- Today, the Benton Foundation and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) released four independent academic studies on the impact of media consolidation in the United States. 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 underserved audiences -- in an increasingly deregulated media environment.
These studies make clear that media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened, not relaxed. The studies are intended to inform the FCC's re-examination of media ownership restrictions and have been filed with the FCC during the initial public comment period ending Monday, October 23.
Benton president and former FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani framed the importance of these studies, stating: "This is about everything we hear and see and read through the media. At stake is how TV, radio, newspapers and even emerging media will look, what role they will play in people's lives, and who, if anyone, will control them and for what purposes."
Joe Karaganis, program director at the SSRC, commented that his organization's goal is "to ensure that public policy is informed by rigorous data and analysis, and by a wide range of perspectives. Our role in this process has been that of a facilitator of a larger conversation among researchers interested in media ownership."
The four studies 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., area 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 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. "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 Yan's study at the press conference.
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About the Benton Foundation: A private foundation since 1981, the Benton Foundation (http://www.benton.org) works to advance a public interest vision and policy alternatives for the digital age and to demonstrate the value of communications for solving social problems. The foundation is based in Washington, DC.
About the Social Science Research Council: The SSRC (http://www.ssrc.org) is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1923 to bring research to bear on public problems. It works on a wide range of issues, from media policy, to the social impact of HIV/AIDS, to changes in systems of higher education. The SSRC is based in New York City.