Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Free Press tell the FCC that the public needs diverse and competitive sources for local news and information.
Consumer groups emphasized the critical link between democracy and an open and independent media in comments filed today with the FCC on a proposed loosening of media ownership rules.
In more than 800 pages of comments and studies submitted by Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Free Press, the groups urged the FCC to adopt media ownership rules that encourage diverse viewpoints and ensure “access to competitive, independent sources of local news and information.”
“Our data blows holes in past FCC arguments for loosening media ownership limits,” said Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal and international policy for Consumers Union. He continued: “The facts are straightforward. A vast majority of Americans still rely on locally owned television stations and newspapers as their most important source for local news and information. Cable and Internet are no substitutes.”
Studies submitted as part of the groups’ comments say that in markets with fewer dominant media companies, independent and local media outlets competing against each other are more likely to air diverse opinions and provide more ownership opportunities for minorities.
“The FCC needs to recognize these essential facts and support an open and robust media. Our very democracy depends on it,” added Kimmelman.
The groups’ comments dispute claims that ownership limits on conventional media are unnecessary in the Internet age. The comments include new survey data showing that 88% of people still rely on local newspapers, TV stations, weeklies and radio as most important sources of local news, despite growth of the Internet. While the Internet is a source for news, the groups say their evidence shows its influence is minor and only supplements conventional media. The majority of those who use the Internet for news access Web sites of traditional media sources like the daily newspapers and TV stations.
The groups also provided analysis of the impact of media concentration on women and minority ownership and local news coverage. Their data says that women own only roughly 5% of all stations, while accounting for 51% of the population. Racial and ethnic minorities own around 3% of all stations while accounting for 33% of the U.S. population. And the groups’ research also says that minority-owned stations produce local news content at higher levels than non-minority-owned stations.
The groups said that loosening ownership restrictions will result in less local news coverage and also submitted media market analysis for 13 states showing further mergers among leading media outlets would “clearly violate existing federal merger guideline thresholds for excessive market control.”
“There is simply no evidence that supports permitting further media consolidation—no justification in law, economics, or social policy,” said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. “The cornerstone of the FCC’s argument to relax ownership limits is that consolidation is in the public interest. The evidence to the contrary is very clear. Stations that consolidate don’t produce more news, they produce less. And diversity of news and opinion from the most influential media declines. The record is clear. More consolidation hurts our democracy without any discernible benefits.”