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Knight Center


Relaxation of media law could threaten media diversity in U.S., critics say

height="176"Ilustration via Free Press.

The Federal Communications Commission looks poised to revoke a 30-year-old rule banning cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations, according to several sources. The proposed change to the 1975 ban would allow a company to own one newspaper, two television stations and up to eight radio stations in the same media market, according to Free Press. The change would only affect the top 20 largest markets, according to The New York Times

Supporters of the revision claim the loosening of ownership rules will provide much-needed investment for struggling local newspapers while critics fear the proposed changes could threaten media diversity and weaken local news.

Last November, a proposal from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to “streamline and modernize media ownership rules” put the proposal back on the table after the courts denied the FCC’s last effort to loosen the prohibition in 2007, according to Times

Media companies, including newspapers, support the change. Caroline Little, CEO and president of the Newspaper Association of America, wrote an opinion piece for Politico arguing that the FCC ban on cross-ownership “has outlived its original purpose and no longer serves the public interest.” The National Association of Broadcasters advocated relaxing the ban past the top 20 markets and beyond the 50 largest cities, according to Bloomberg.

Little cited FCC studies on media cross-ownership that she claimed showed no effect on media diversity and improved local news coverage: 

“According to FCC-commissioned research, a cross-owned television station produces nearly 50 percent more local news, airs 30 percent more coverage of state and local political candidates, and devotes 40 percent more time to candidates’ speeches and comments.”

More coverage does not make up for fewer voices, critics argued. 

Writing for Free Press, Josh Stearns contested the FCC studies Little cited on media diversity, pointing out that the studies included sports coverage in their results and failed to pass muster in peer review

“If you look beyond the one station and take into account the entire region being served by local TV and newspapers, both FCC data and outside studies indicate that cross-ownership leads to less total news produced locally. Cross-ownership crowds out the competition.”

Bernie Sanders wrote in an editorial for The Boston Globe that media consolidation leads to less local control, fewer outlets offering differing viewpoints and less ownership diversity. According to Sanders, 90 percent of U.S. media is owned by six corporations. “The rule would make a bad situation worse,” Sanders said.

According to Stearns, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was the only business actively lobbying for the change. Supposedly, News Corp. is interested in purchasing the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times from the Tribune Company, recently released from bankruptcy protection. The Guardian floated Warren Buffett as another possible buyer for the newspapers but this would break with his strategy of purchasing smaller newspapers with limited local competition. 

News Corp. has become a lightening rod for media consolidation critics that note Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate already owns Fox Broadcasting, FoxNews, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and other major media outlets.

In December 2012, News Corporation announced it would split its holdings between publishing, under the News Corp. name, and media and entertainment, under the name Fox Group, according to a press release from the company. 

The U.S. is not the only country in the region debating the effects of news consolidation. Argentina recently passed a controversial media diversity law that limits the number of broadcast channels a single company can own. In 2011, Bolivia passed a new media law that divides the broadcast spectrum between the state, private sector, indigenous/peasant organizations and community groups. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo also announced his intention to propose a plebiscite on media democratization


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