A few months ago, the FCC decided to revisit the possibility of relaxing media ownership regulations, while concerns about the decline of localism in the media bubbled in the background. Bubbles popped last week, when Senator Boxer (D-CA) revealed a 2004 FCC study on localism that was mysteriously "erased" somewhere along the way. The report, which you can read here courtesy of the FCC (at least their PR damage control team is on the ball) demonstrates that locally-owned TV news stations deliver more local news coverage. Someone at the FCC gave the order to destroy all evidence that this report ever existed, but a copy leaked through at an inconvenient time for Chairman Martin: during his confirmation hearing (he was still confirmed).
Another previously-suppressed 2003 FCC report on radio ownership consolidation was just unveiled by Senator Boxer this week. The study (read it here) illustrates the fact that the number of radio station owners has declined by 35% since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was adopted. Clear Channel alone grew from owning less than 65 stations across the country in 1996, to owning over 1,200 in 2003.
The data contained within these two reports illustrate some serious problems that result from media ownership consolidation, so it is not surprising that they were destroyed. After all, both Kevin Martin and Michael Powell (previous FCC Chair) were interested in expanding the 1996 act by increasing the number of TV and radio stations one company may own in a given market, and also allowing a media giant to control both a newspaper and a TV station in the same region. The FCC actually voted for similar changes in 2003, but Powell's efforts were shot down by a court the following year. Although both Powell and Martin claim that they were not aware of the existence of either report, the reports never existing sure do suit their agendas, eh? Why did Powell resign, anyway? But alas, politicians are craftier than that. Some wingman will likely take the blame, if anyone. But the next few weeks should be interesting, as Martin has ordered a full investigation.