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Introduction to Media Ownership


In this chapter, we will be discussing how the distribution of media works in today’s society, along with its implications and complications. Ownership in the media has many different basic elements that are important for students to understand in order to see the whole picture.


First, shareholders own media corporations, and each of those companies are controlled by Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), who ultimately have control over the dissemination of content. They are the decision makers, and their goal is to maximize their profits. The more companies a corporation owns, the more power it will have in influencing media audiences, and the wealthier they will become because of their created concentration of power: “media businesses get more efficient and wealthy through the concentration of power” (Potter, 187).


Media ownership is debated between critics. Some critics favor localism and others favor concentration. Localism is when there are many locally owned companies and thus more distribution of choices, “Consumers favor localism; they want a marketplace with as many voices as possible so they have lots of choices about how to satisfy their various needs for information and entertainment.” (Potter, 188) Concentration is favored by business people for more success and money in their given fields. “CEOs favor concentration; they focus on the capitalistic business environment where the goal is to maximize profits.” (Potter, 188)


Concentration of power can happen in three basic ways, through horizontal merging, vertical merging, and conglomerate merging. Horizontal merging occurs when media companies buy other media companies of the same type, such as one radio station buying another radio station (Clear Channel Communications). Vertical merging occurs when one media company decides to purchase suppliers or distributors, such as a film companies buying theatres and talent agencies (Time Warner). Conglomerate merging involves a media company buying both other media companies and/or companies unrelated to the media, such as a television station buying restaurants, book publishing, etc (General Electric).


The Potter references come from the Book Media Literacy Second Ed.


Justification for Analyzing Media Ownership

Our students' lives are often dominated by consumption of media. Regardless of what form they prefer, chances are the same companies are behind the programs/films/books/websites/etc. that they consume. In order to effectively analyze the messages that are disseminated by these companies, it is important to know more about them; how they came into being, what holdings they own, who is in charge and what agendas they may be interested in. Looking at the history and current state of media ownership allows us and our students to gain a better understanding of the messages we consume every day.



A Brief History of Media Consolidation


Media ownership has a history full of tug-o-wars. Some historical events help to restrict concentration of power, while other events work to relax rules on ownership, increasing the levels of consolidation. Our focus will be on the events that increase consolidation, which causes concentration of power as companies merge together. The following list provides brief examples of some key events that occurred in media consolidation history:


• Telecommunications Act of 1996

This act was written when congress re-wrote the communication laws. It relaxed rules on media ownership, creating increasing media consolidation.

With the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC eliminated most ownership restrictions on the radio. As a result, in 1996 alone some 2,100 stations switched owners, as $15 billion changed hands. Between 1996 and 2000, more than half of U.S. radio stations changed owners and the number of station owners declined by about 1,000”. (Campbell, 132)

The telecommunications act brought an end to many previous ownership restrictions, causing much concentration of power in the world of media.


Deregulation by FCC and Congress of 1981

This rule, enacted by the Reagan Administration, relaxed ownership laws for television stations, allowing a company to own up to 12 stations instead of seven, providing the stations did not reach more than 25 percent of the population. Click on this website for more information:


• Senate Commerce Committee hearing on media ownership

Decided that there would be no big change in rules, even after concerns of media consolidation.



The following are websites that supply more information about the history of media consolidation.


A media regulation timeline

This site offers a timeline of ‘Media Mega Mergers’

A timeline of major events in the history of media ownership.



Works Cited


Campbell, Richard. Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2004.


The following information was taken from Hear us Now


Americans rely on television and newspapers to learn about upcoming elections, understand local and national news and help make informed decisions. Through much of the 20th century, policymakers recognized the importance of limiting owners from dominating local and national media outlets in order to ensure people's access to the widest possible range of viewpoints and sources of information. However, the trend toward deregulating or lifting these limits began to take hold during the Reagan Administration.


FCC Adopts Media Ownership Limits


Early communications policy started out strongly in favor of preserving and ensuring diverse sources of information as a cornerstone of a functioning democratic society. In 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began adopting strong rules to preserve diversity on the airwaves.


Through a series of actions that spanned from then until the 1970s, the FCC adopted rules that restricted the number of local radio stations one company could own, limited the national audience reach for one broadcaster, restricted companies from owning multiple TV stations in a local market and banned the ownership of both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.


Each of the FCC's early efforts to maintain some restrictions on media ownership was based on the widely-held belief that media concentrated in the hands of too few companies could threaten access, diverse viewpoints and local news and information.


Media Consolidation Begins


By the beginning of the 1980s, the Reagan Administration, the FCC and Congress embarked on a deregulatory approach toward communications policy and began chipping away at the protections in place for ensuring media diversity. For example, the number of television stations any single entity could own grew from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985. And the 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated the 40-station ownership cap on radio stations. Since then, the radio industry has experienced unprecedented consolidation.


Current Media Ownership Fight


In June 2003, the FCC voted 3-2 to overturn most of the few remaining restrictions still in place on big media corporations. These new rules would have lifted a ban on the cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in local markets and allowed for further concentration of broadcast ownership in local markets. Among other things, the new rules would have allowed one company to own three TV stations, eight radio stations, and the monopoly newspaper in a single market. The FCC also included a provision to allow one company to own stations reaching 45% of our nation's homes, but after much public outcry, Congress subsequently voted to reduce that cap to 39%.


Close to three million Americans have joined with public interest groups to fight back against the FCC's current deregulatory proposals. In late June 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the rule changes and ordered the FCC to rewrite them.


A report from Common Cause Education Fund outlining the effects of the Telecomunnications Act of 1996


Effects of Ownership Consolidation


One of the major concerns regarding media ownership consolidation is the lack of perfect marketplace competition. When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was first introduced it was done so in order to increase competition in the media realm. At the time, it was cited that, "(the Telecommunications Act was) based on the premise that technological changes will permit a flourishing of telecommunications carriers, engaged in head-to-head competition, resulting in a multitude of communications carriers and programmers being made available to the American consumer" (Meyerson qtd. in Dean Alger's Megamedia 1998). This, unfortunately was not the case. After the act was passed independent media outlets across the country were swallowed up by media heavy-hitters (resulting in the Big 5 (or 8 or 10) of today.) Part of this problem, save new media outlets, are the unusually high barriers to entry to the mediashpere. It is nearly impossible for new businesses to enter television, film, newspaper, and music markets because of the great costs involved.


The Marketplace of Ideas


Interlocking Directorates

Progressiveliving.org offers a great concise definition of what interlocking directorates are.


Interlocking Directorates from Global Issues


Interlocking directorates is also another issue. Interlocking is where a director of one company may sit on a board of another company. As pointed out by U.S. media watchdog, Fairness an Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) for example, Media corporations share members of the board of directors with a variety of other large corporations, including banks, investment companies, oil companies, health care and pharmaceutical companies and technology companies. (See the previous link for details of top media companies and the companies they are interlocked with, etc.)


Ben H Bagdikian, in his book, The Media Monopoly, details some of the impacts of this interlocking. In these cases where directors from numerous large corporations sit on each others boards and own or sit on boards of large media companies, he points out that conflicts of interest can be numerous. Furthermore, he also points out that it is difficult to show beyond doubt that these conflicts of interest make their way into media decisions:


It is not often the public hears of ... clear destruction of editorial independence. In most cases there is no visible imposition of the parent firm's policies, and the policies are often not absolute, conditioned as they are by the desire for profits. ... The problem is ... subtle and profound. In a democracy ... a wide spectrum of ideas has equitable access to the marketplace (justifying a private publisher's imposing his personal politics on the decision of what to print). The effect of a corporate line (exerting control over public ideas) is not so different from that of a party line (of a country imposing controls). ... Detecting how most of the mass media impose political tests on what the public will see and hear is not as straightforward as (it may) seem. Political intervention in its most pervasive form is not open and explicit but is concealed under seemingly apolitical reasons (such as the natural choices that have to be made on the countless number of works that might not be published for legitimate non-political based reasons). ... Most difficult of all to document is the implicit influence of corporate chiefs. Most bosses do not have to tell their subordinates what they like and dislike. (Emphasis added)

The deeper social loss of giantism in the media is not in its unfair advantage in profits and power; this is real and it is serious. But the gravest loss is in the self-serving censorship of political and social ideas, in news, magazine articles, books, broadcasting, and movies. Some intervention by owners is direct and blunt. But most of the screening is subtle, some not even occurring at a conscious level, as when subordinates learn by habit to conform to owners' ideas. But subtle or not, the ultimate result is distorted reality and impoverished ideas.

— Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, Sixth Edition, (Beacon Press, 2000), pp. 35 - 36, 45.


He continues to further point out that the concentrated ownership also allows criticism to be managed as well:


Corporations have multimillion-dollar budgets to dissect and attack news reports they dislike. But with each passing year they have yet another power: They are not only hostile to independent journalists. They are their employers.

— Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, Sixth Edition, (Beacon Press, 2000), p. 65.


In this respect, as the mainstream media is more corporate owned, the same market pressures that affect those companies, affect the media as well and hence, the media itself is largely driven by the forces of the market.


In the US, for example, it is very noticeable how competitive the media companies are between themselves. While competition can be a healthy aspect of news reporting and media in general, pushing for better quality, the oligopoly and concentrated control of media companies has meant that the competition has reduced itself to attracting viewers through sensationalism etc rather than quality, detailed reporting etc.


Many stations report news on the very same stories at the exact same time and have commercial breaks at the same time! The sensationalism they compete for is what they hope will drive audiences to their channel.


This type of competition affects the ability to provide quality news and affects the depth and even reputation of professional journalism.


Media executives speak in the language of war - of bombarding audiences, targeting markets, capturing grosses, killing the competition, and winning, by which they mean making more money than the other guy. Some news organisations even refer to their employees as “the troops”. It is hard for media workers, including journalists, to operate outside the ethos of hyper-competitition and ratings mania. As willing or unwilling conscripts in the media war, journalists imbibe its values and become warriors themselves.

— Danny Schechter, Chapter 2, Peace Journalism and Media War: the Fight to Reform Journalism, What Are Journalists For?, presented on the Conflict and Peace Forums, September 1998.




A ZDNet article about Hollywood writers, actors, musicans, etc. speaking out against consolidation.


From a Ted Turner article arguing against big media:


In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys--they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.


But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap--even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.


Loss of Quality


The Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans exerts a negative influence on society, because it discourages people who want to climb up the list from giving more money to charity. The Nielsen ratings are dangerous in a similar way--because they scare companies away from good shows that don't produce immediate blockbuster ratings. The producer Norman Lear once asked, "You know what ruined television?" His answer: when The New York Times began publishing the Nielsen ratings. "That list every week became all anyone cared about."


When all companies are quarterly earnings-obsessed, the market starts punishing companies that aren't yielding an instant return. This not only creates a big incentive for bogus accounting, but also it inhibits the kind of investment that builds economic value. America used to know this. We used to be a nation of farmers. You can't plant something today and harvest tomorrow. Had Turner Communications been required to show earnings growth every quarter, we never would have purchased those first two TV stations.


When CNN reported to me, if we needed more money for Kosovo or Baghdad, we'd find it. If we had to bust the budget, we busted the budget. We put journalism first, and that's how we built CNN into something the world wanted to watch. I had the power to make these budget decisions because they were my companies. I was an independent entrepreneur who controlled the majority of the votes and could run my company for the long term. Top managers in these huge media conglomerates run their companies for the short term. After we sold Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner, we came under such earnings pressure that we had to cut our promotion budget every year at CNN to make our numbers. Media mega-mergers inevitably lead to an overemphasis on short-term earnings.


You can see this overemphasis in the spread of reality television. Shows like "Fear Factor" cost little to produce--there are no actors to pay and no sets to maintain--and they get big ratings. Thus, American television has moved away from expensive sitcoms and on to cheap thrills. We've gone from "Father Knows Best" to "Who Wants to Marry My Dad?", and from "My Three Sons" to "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."


The story of Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore's production studio, MTM, helps illustrate the point. When the company was founded in 1969, Tinker and Moore hired the best writers they could find and then left them alone--and were rewarded with some of the best shows of the 1970s. But eventually, MTM was bought by a company that imposed budget ceilings and laid off employees. That company was later purchased by Rev. Pat Robertson; then, he was bought out by Fox. Exit "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Enter "The Littlest Groom."


Teaching Activities


A lesson plan for teaching media consolidation issues in the classroom:



• Students will demonstrate an understanding of both the benefits and dangers of media consolidation.

• Students will be able to critically analyze arguments for both sides of the media consolidation debate.





Day 1:

Mini-lesson on economics of media

Guiding questions:

Who Owns what in your area?

What is Synergy and how does it affect the final product?

Define relevant terms, localism, monopoly, oligopoly, etc.

Day 2:

Provide examples of basic arguments for and against consolidation

Split students into two groups: For and Against

Research time for students to find more in-depth arguments


Day 3-4 (more or less depending on time):

Students will finalize their arguments and prepare rebuttals.


Day 5:

Hold a class debate (perhaps two, depending on number of students)



Students can be evaluated on a number of different criteria, depending on how this lesson fits into curriculum.

1) How well formed were their arguments? In depth? Examples?

2) Are there examples and arguments from quality sources? Did they give proper credit to their sources?










Helpful Links & Other Information



The Media Family Trees


Could Tony on A & E bring restrictions to cable: How moving HBO material to cable could enhance censorship conerns


Local Ownership of News Raises New Issues


Jeremy Caplan, Extra: Newspapers Aren't Dead

News consumers in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston--and other parts of the country--may have heard that local investors are interested in buying their main newspaper. And while they might think it is purely a business matter, it's more about them--and the future of journalism that informs their daily lives.

Corporations are pushing for big cuts, but does the squeeze have to be this severe? It doesn't seem to matter to Wall Street, so focused on short-term results, that the newspaper industry last year reported an average operating margin of 19.3%--twice the average for the Fortune 500 companies.

Potential buyers, some with deep pockets, are aiming to "rescue" these newspapers from the corporations. And some believe Wall Street's profit interest is trumping Main Street's publicinterest--cutting newsroom staffs to the point that journalism's watchdog role is in danger.


Google's role in controlling media


Net Neutrality: Big telecom companies are trying to control the Internet by lobbying for changes in the law to charge extra fees for companies to have different speed levels.



Ownership is so Yesterday The New York Times


The media can legally lie: Fox News wins a challenge from whistleblowers who were told to present false information and sued Fox News




Stop Big Media: Bill Maher clip on media ownership


Media Consolidation on NOW



Who Owns What: PBS NOW


Video: Media Consolidation



The Big Eight


General Electric 2005 revenues: $157.2 billion


ral Electric media-related holdings include television networks NBC Universal and Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, 38 television stations in the U.S., and cable networks such as MSNBC, Bravo and the Sci Fi Channel.


Time Warner 2005 revenues: $43.7 billion

Time Warner is the largest media conglomerate in the world, with holdings including The WB Television Network, CNN, HBO, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, America Online, MapQuest, Moviefone, Netscape, Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock, and New Line Cinema, over 150 magazines such as Time, Cooking Light, Marie Claire and People, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team.


Walt Disney Company 2005 revenues: $31.9 billion

The Walt Disney Company owns the ABC Television Network, numerous cable networks including ESPN, The Disney Channel, SOAPnet, A&E and Lifetime, 72 radio and 10 television stations, music and book publishing companies, production companies such as Touchstone, Miramax and Walt Disney Pictures, and six theme parks around the world.


Vivendi Universal S.A. 2005 revenues: $25.1 billion

Vivendi owns cable stations in Europe and record companies such as Geffen Records, Universal Records, and Def Jam.


News Corporation 2005 revenues: $23.9 billion

News Corporation, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, owns The Fox Broadcasting Company, television and cable networks such as Fox, National Geographic and FX, 37 television stations, print publications including The New York Post and TVGuide, book publisher HarperCollins, film production companies 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Blue Sky Studios, and the National Rugby League.


Bertelsmann AG 2005 revenues: $22.2 billion

Bertelsmann AG, one of the world’s largest media companies, owns holdings in Europe and North America, including: book publisher Random House, radio and cable TV owner RTL Group, music publisher Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and print publisher Gruner+Jahr.


CBS Corporation 2005 revenues: $14.5 billion

CBS Corporation owns the CBS Television Network, UPN, Showtime, book publisher Simon & Schuster, 41 television stations, Infinity (now CBS) Radio, Inc., and theme parks such as Paramount’s Kings Dominion.


Viacom 2005 revenues: $9.8 billion

Before splitting off CBS Corporation, Viacom was one of the largest media companies in the world. The new Viacom is also large, with holdings including Music Television, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment and publishing company Famous Music.



Top Owners in Different Areas



Top Movie Companies


Rank Company 2006 Box Office Gross

1 Sony & MGM/UA $1,469,097,728

2 The Walt Disney Company $1,278,391,029

3 20th Century Fox (News Corp.) $1,192,477,646

4 Warner Brothers/New Line $1,005,414,485

5 NBC/Universal (GE Co.) $932,864,129

6 Paramount Pictures (Viacom Inc.)$823,083,583

7 Lionsgate $246,947,250



Top Music Companies


Rank Company 2006 Albums Sold

1 Universal Music Group (Vivendi) 143,017,000

2 SonyBMG Sales Enterprise 123,036,000

3 Warner Music Group 86,038,000

4 EMI Music (EMI Group) 46,076,000


Top 10 Pay TV Programming Companies


Rank Company 2006 Average Primetime Viewers

1 USA Network (General Electric Co.) 1,972,000

2 The Disney Channel 1,927,000

3 TNT (Time Warner Inc.) 1,866,000

4 ESPN (The Walt Disney Company) 1,500,000

5 Lifetime Television 1,233,000

6 Turner Broadcasting System 1,225,000

7 Cartoon Network (Time Warner Inc.) 1,222,000

8 Nickelodeon (Viacom Inc.) 1,210,000

9 Fox News Channel (News Corp.) 1,127,000

10 FX (News Corp.) 935,000



Top Ten Newspaper Owners


Rank Company 2006 M-F Subscribers

1 Gannett Company, Inc. 7,343,114

2 Tribune Company 3,343,824

3 The McClatchy Company 3,290,143

4 Advance Publications, Inc. 2,671,639

5 MediaNews Group, Inc. 2,572,809

6 Dow Jones and Company 2,513,637

7 New York Times Co. 2,244,328

8 Lee Enterprises, Inc. 1,550,049

9 Hearst Newspapers 1,506,471

10 Scripps Newspapers 1,205,278



Top TV Station Owners


1 Fox Entertainment Group (News. Corp)

2 CBS Television Stations (CBS Corporation)

3 NBC Universal Inc (General Electric)

4 Tribune Company

5 ABC Inc. (The Walt Disney Company)

6 Gannett Company, Inc.

7 Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. (Hearst Corp.)

8 Belo Corp.

9 Raycom Media Inc.

10 Cox Broadcasting (Cox Enterprises Inc.)



Top Radio Station Owners


1 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

2 CBS Radio (CBS Corporation)

3 Entercom Communications Corp.

4 Cox Radio Inc. (Cox Enterprises Inc.)

5 ABC Inc. (The Walt Disney Company)

6 Citadel Broadcasting Corp.

7 Radio One, Inc.

8 Emmis Communications Corp.

9 Cumulus Broadcasting Inc.

10 Cumulus Media Partners LLC



Top Cable Owners


1 Comcast Corp.

2 Time Warner Cable Inc. (Time Warner Inc.)

3 Charter Communications Inc.

4 Cox Communications (Cox Enterprises)

5 Cablevision Systems Corp.

6 Bright House Networks (Advance/Newhouse)

7 Mediacom Communications Corp.

8 Insight Communications Co. Inc.

9 Suddenlink Communications

10 Cable One Inc. (The Washington Post Company)



Ownership: Twin-Cities area



Top Broadcast Owners Total


Clear Channel Communications Inc. 8

The Walt Disney Company 6

Minnesota Public Radio 4

CBS Corporation 4

Salem Communications Corp. 3


Newspaper Ownership

McClatchy: Star Tribune

Media NewsGroup St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gannett Co., Inc. St. Cloud Times

TV Ownership

WCCO Channel 4 Viacom (CBS Stations)

KARE Channel 11 Gannett

KSTP Channel 5 Hubbard Brodcasting

KMSP Channel 9 Fox/News Corporation

KMWB Channel 23 Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

WFTC Channel 29 Fox Television Stations, Inc.


Radio Ownership % of all radio broadcasting:

Clear Channel Communications Inc. 12.2 %

Walt Disney 8.7%

Viacom 7.0%


KTCZ-FM 97.1 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KDWB-FM 101.3 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KEEY-FM 102.1 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

WLOL 100.3 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KQQL 107.9 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KFXN 690.0 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KYSM-FM 103.5 Clear Channel Communications Inc.

KFAN 1,130.0 Clear Channel Communications Inc.


WXPT 104.1 Viacom Inc.

WLTE 102.9 Viacom Inc.

KCCO 950.0 Viacom Inc.

WCCO 830.0 Viacom Inc.


KXXR 93.7 Walt Disney Co.

KQRS-FM 92.5 Walt Disney Co.

WGVZ 105.7 Walt Disney Co.

WGVX 105.1 Walt Disney Co.

KDIZ 1440 Walt Disney Co.

WDGY 630.0 Walt Disney Co.


WLTE 102.9 CBS Corporation

KZJK 104.1 CBS Corporation

Concentration of Media Ownership: FCC 2003 ruling loosening ownership rules



On June 2, 2003, The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a 3-2 vote, approved new media ownership laws that removed many of the restrictions previously imposed to limit ownership of media within a local area.The changes were not, as is customarily done, made available to the public for a comment period. Two commissioners requested this public comment period (the same two who voted against the changes) and their requests were denied without justification. The news coverage of this event in the mainstream press was very low-key.

A few of the points included:

* Single-company ownership of media in a given market is now permitted up to 45% (formerly 35%, up from 25% in 1985) of that market.

* Restrictions on newspaper and TV station ownership in the same market were removed.

* All TV channels, magazines, newspapers, cable, and internet services are now counted, weighted based on people's average tendency to find news on that medium. At the same time, whether a channel actually contains news is no longer considered in counting the percentage of a medium owned by one owner.

(Thus it is now possible for two companies to own all of a city's 2 newspapers, 3 local TV stations, 2 national TV networks, and 8 local radio stations, (up to 45% of the media each) so long as there are other companies owning the shopping channel, the discovery channel, and at least 10% of other non-news outlets.)

* Previous requirements for periodic review of license have been changed. Licenses are no longer reviewed for "public-interest" considerations.


The Media Access Project issues the following statement in response to a news report indicating that former FCC Chairman Michael Powell ordered the destruction of a FCC report supporting stricter media ownership limits. September 14, 2006

In a USA Today Op Ed in 2003 on the FCC’s media ownership proceeding, then-Chairman Powell accused opponents of “substituting personal ideology for and opinion for the facts.” According to the Associated Press, however, when a study Powell ordered to prove deregulation did not hurt local news

coverage proved the opposite, Powell ordered the study not merely suppressed, but destroyed.

“It appears that it was Michael Powell, not the public, who preferred to make decisions based on ‘personal ideology,’” said Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Media Access Project.

Powell allegedly ordered the study to counter mounting evidence in the FCC’s 2003 “localism proceeding,” showing that relaxing ownership regulation hurt local news. But the study showed just the opposite, proving the need for maintaining ownership limits rather than relaxing them.

There is no evidence that the FCC’s current Chairman, Kevin Martin, ever knew of this report – let alone participated in Powell’s effort to destroy it. Furthermore, Chairman Martin has shown a commendable willingness to open the ownership process to the public by committing to holding six public hearings

outside of Washington DC. At his confirmation hearing for another term yesterday, Chairman Martin confessed that he was no longer “comfortable” with the FCC’s decision to deregulate in 2003, and pledged to approach the new ownership proceeding with an “open mind.”

Nevertheless, the public deserves to know the truth about whether Martin’s predecessor tried to destroy valuable evidence about the most critical question facing the FCC then or now. We join with Free Press,

Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America in calling on Chairman Martin to set up an independent investigation into today’s allegations.

Michael Powell was absolutely right when he said we need to decide this issue on the basis of facts, not personal ideologies. Unlike Powell, we hope that Chairman Martin will share those facts with the public, no matter what they prove.

Media Access Project is a public interest law firm which served as counsel to the Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project in its successful appeal of the FCC’s June, 2003 media ownership decision.



Excerpt: Why media ownership matters By Amy Goodman and David Goodman, The Seattle Times

As Phil Donahue, the former host of MSNBC's highest-rated show who was fired by the network in February 2003 for bringing on anti-war voices, told "Democracy Now!," "We have more TV outlets now, but most of them sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn't diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it."

The lack of diversity in ownership helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism.

Three out of almost 400 interviews. And that was on the "respectable" evening news shows of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS.

These are not media that are serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions. This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that is repackaging government spin and passing it off as journalism.

For the media moguls, even this parody of political "diversity" is too much. So as Gen. Colin Powell led the war on Iraq, his son, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led the war on diversity of voices at home.

In the spring of 2003, Michael Powell tried to hand over the airwaves and newspapers to fewer and fewer tycoons by further loosening restrictions on how many media outlets a single company could own. Powell tried to scrap 30-year-old rules that limited the reach of any television network to no more than 35 percent of the national population, and limits on cross-ownership that, for example, prevented newspapers from buying television or radio stations in the same city. The new rules would have allowed a broadcast network to buy up stations that together reached 45 percent of the national population.

The attack on the existing media-ownership rules came from predictable corners: Both Viacom, which owns CBS, and Rupert Murdoch's conservative FOX News Channel were already in violation, and would be forced to sell off stations to come into compliance with the 35-percent limit. The rule change would enable Murdoch to control the airwaves of entire cities. That would be fine with Bush and the Powells, since Murdoch is one of their biggest boosters.

Murdoch declared in February 2003 that George W. Bush "will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn. I'm optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of 2 to 1." Murdoch leaves nothing to chance: His FOX News Channel is doing all it can to help.

It looked like Powell, backed by the Bush White House and with Republican control of Congress, would have no trouble ramming through these historic rule changes. The broadcast industry left nothing to chance: Between 1998 and 2004, broadcasters spent a boggling $249 million lobbying the federal government, including spending $27 million on federal candidates and lawmakers.



Music industry criticizes the concentration of radio ownership



Consumer Groups Applaud Bipartisan Bill on Network Neutrality

Consumers Union, Consumer Federation, Free Press, MAP and U.S. PIRG Support House Judiciary Committee’s Effort to Protect a Free and Open Internet

WASHINGTON – A coalition of leading consumer and public interest groups today welcomed the "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006," a bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee that would offer meaningful protections under the law for Network Neutrality – the guiding principle that ensures a free and open Internet.

The bill, HR 5417, is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.); Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.); and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.). In reaction to this new, bipartisan legislation, Free Press, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Media Access Project and U.S. PIRG made the following statement:

"We applaud the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee for taking this important step toward preserving a free and open Internet.

"From its inception, the Internet has prospered on a foundation of equality and neutrality, open to all and protected from discrimination by unnecessary gatekeepers. Network Neutrality is about preserving the Internet as truly free market that encourages competition and innovation.

"In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens have contacted Congress, urging their elected officials to protect Network Neutrality. Despite the intense lobbying and misleading advertising of the cable and telecommunications industry, Congress is beginning to heed the public outcry.

"A growing alliance in Congress recognizes that Network Neutrality is not a partisan issue, but one of grave importance to anyone who wishes to see the Internet remain an unrivaled environment for innovation, civic participation and free speech. We urge all members of Congress to support this important legislation."

Broadband as a Public Service

High-speed Internet access is fast becoming a basic public necessity — just like water, gas or electricity. But far too many Americans are finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to get connected or afford expensive commercial service. Community Internet is the answer.

Soon all media -- TV, telephone, radio and the Web -- will be delivered via the Internet over a broadband connection. New wireless and wired technologies allow local governments, public-private partnerships, schools and community groups to offer faster, cheaper and more reliable Internet service.

Hundreds of Community Internet and municipal broadband projects have sprouted up across the The major barrier to establishing Community Internet is not technological or economic. It's political.

The big telephone and cable companies are using their lobbying clout in Washington and the state capitals to outlaw municipal broadband systems, prevent competition and undercut local control.



Excerpt: Ryan Blethen, Times editorial: Media Biggies shouldn't be allowed to get bigger


The Federal Communications Commission's hopscotch through the rules that govern the press and media began last week with a hearing in Los Angeles. The commissioners should treat the restrictive rules like a porcelain vase filled with Grandpa's ashes, given the overwhelming response from the public at the hearing to keep the Biggies from owning everything.


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin should not be surprised by the lopsided support for his commission to maintain rules that stymie huge media conglomerates from adding to their already massive portfolios (a disgusting term when talking about the press).


At least Martin showed up. His predecessor, Commissioner Michael Powell, did not attend any of the hearings set up by Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein in 2003, when the FCC rewrote the rules so the Biggies could buy anything without regard to readers and communities.


A Stanford professor was brought in for the Los Angeles hearing to bolster the cause of consolidation. Amazingly, he claimed media are more diverse than ever. Strange position for somebody living in the Bay Area, where two companies — MediaNews Group out of Denver and Hearst out of New York — control everything from San Francisco east to Contra Costa and south to Monterey.


Adding to the supposedly rich diversity in the Bay Area, MediaNews recently entered into some strange financial arrangement with Hearst.


The Bay Area is not an anomaly. Almost all American cities are saddled with distant owners that consider the local paper nothing more than a commodity.


Further evidence of the sad state of the press is the lack of coverage the first hearing received. The Associated Press covered it. So did the Los Angeles Times. That was about it. The Seattle Times surprisingly overlooked this important story. If there is an issue newsrooms should be concerned about, it is this.


If the big national papers and regional papers are not going to cover this issue as it progresses, I hope for a cyber-response along the lines of the Internet neutrality debate. A resistance of funny and cheap videos on YouTube and Web sites like www.stopbigmedia.com have been able to hold off the well-financed lobbyists who want telecommunication companies such as Verizon to be able to charge for faster Internet service.



From: John Nichols, Newspapers...and After? The Nation, January 29, 2007 http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070129/nichols


Crises like that of the Herald Tribune a half-century ago are now the norm rather than the exception. The newspaper industry is in trouble. Big trouble. In 1950 newspapers in the United States had a weekday circulation of 54 million. The circulation figures are roughly the same today, but the number of households has more than doubled. The Los Angeles Times's daily circulation was down 8 percent in a single six-month period in 2006, while the Philadelphia Inquirer was down 7.5 percent, the Boston Globe 6.7 percent, the New York Times 3.5 percent and the Washington Post 3.3 percent.


With drops in circulation have come declines in revenues--not because subscriptions provide all that much money but because media companies collect money from advertisers based on the number of homes they reach. Big advertisers long ago began shifting from the printed page to television, but now classified advertising, the meat-and-potatoes of local and regional daily newspapers, has begun migrating at dramatic speed to websites like craigslist.


What's happening is not just a temporary downturn. From 1990, when newspaper circulation peaked at 62.3 million, readership has been in steady decline. That might lead some to the casual conclusion that the Internet is the problem. But as veteran journalist and media writer Ben Compaine explains, "The heyday of newspapers was in the late nineteenth century, as expanding literacy combined with the development of the steam-driven rotary press, a market economy and wood pulp-based newsprint to make the mass-circulation penny press possible. From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, newspapers were the only mass-circulation daily news and information medium in the media barnyard. That changed with radio. It accelerated with television. The Internet is just the latest information technology that has added to the choices that consumers and advertisers have for obtaining and creating information." All true, but there is powerful evidence that the breaking point for newspapers may finally be coming.


Individual owners and powerful families--who often, though by no means always, settled for reasonable profits in return for the ego boost that went with putting out a quality newspaper--are exiting the stage. Increasingly newspapers are owned by the shareholders of national chains, who do not even know--let alone care about--the names of the papers from which they demand profit margins that are generally twice the average for other industries. Where a local family might have grudgingly accepted a weak quarter and a downturn in revenues, shareholders greet any softness on the bottom line with demands for draconian cuts. If a paper's current managers are unwilling to make them, investors look for more ruthless managers. Investors forced the breakup and sale, in 2006, of the venerable Knight Ridder chain, which owned Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News and the Miami Herald. Similar pressures have forced the Tribune Company, which publishes the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant and several Florida dailies, to put itself on the block.


In recent months, Morgan Stanley has been pressuring the New York Times Company to alter its voting structure to reduce the influence of the Sulzberger family, which has opted for reasonably high--if often imperfect--journalistic standards over unreasonably high profits. The company's "current corporate governance practices deviate from what is widely considered to be best practice," explained Morgan Stanley Investment Management, owner of almost 8 percent of the Times stock, in asking shareholders to vote at this April's annual meeting in favor of its plan. The Sulzbergers shot back with a statement that the family "has no intention of opening our doors to the kind of action that is tearing at the heart of some of the other great journalistic institutions in our country." But the bosses at Knight Ridder once said much the same thing, and even if the Sulzbergers do manage to maintain one major newspaper in something like its current form, their statement is an acknowledgment that the broader trends are in the wrong direction.


How wrong? Under apparent pressure from Wall Street, the McClatchy chain just sold off what would normally have been a crown jewel among its holdings, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, at a rock-bottom price--less than half the $1.2 billion it paid for the largest paper in Minnesota eight years ago. "It was a drag on the bottom line, and we felt we would do better without it," declared McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt. The new owner, a private-equity firm that owns no other newspapers, is not expected to raise journalistic standards--even if the new overseers claim they'll maintain the Star Tribune as the great regional daily it has been for decades. "These buyers aren't in it for the love of journalism, or even for the influence that you get by buying a local paper," argues John Morton, dean of newspaper ownership analysts. "They are in it to make a profit by flipping the paper in five or six years, and the way to do that usually involves a lot of cutting in the meantime."


The Times, the Star Tribune and other great newspapers are not going to collapse soon. But their circumstances are evidence of the rapid, and often dire, changes transforming American newspapering into something less than it has been. Owners are moving to satisfy investors by slashing newsroom staff, pressuring unions to accept cuts, dumbing down coverage of important issues, eliminating statehouse, Washington and foreign bureaus (even the Wall Street Journal is getting into the act, with the recent shuttering of its Canada bureau) and generally sucking the life out of what were once considered public trusts--or by selling out to firms that will do the same thing.


The result has been a hemorrhaging of journalism jobs, as reporters and editors join manufacturing workers in the ranks of "disposable Americans." More than 44,000 news industry employees, at least 34,000 of them newspaper journalists, have lost their jobs over the past five years. Roughly 200 jobs have been cut at the Chicago Tribune over the past year. The Akron Beacon Journal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Ohio daily that once set the standard in the state for investigative journalism, has slashed newsroom jobs by 25 percent. The San Jose Mercury News is in the process of shedding 17 percent of its newsroom positions. And deep cuts are being implemented in Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, Philadelphia and dozens of smaller cities where traditional beats--labor, farm, federal courts--are disappearing as retiring reporters are not replaced.


The Project for Excellence in Journalism's current report on "The State of the News Media" notes, "In some cities, the numbers alone tell the story. There are roughly half as many reporters covering metropolitan Philadelphia, for instance, as in 1980. The number of newspaper reporters there has fallen from 500 to 220. The pattern at the suburban papers around the city has been similar, though not as extreme. The local TV stations, with the exception of Fox, have cut back on traditional news coverage. The five AM radio stations that used to cover news have been reduced to two. As recently as 1990, the Philadelphia Inquirer had 46 reporters covering the city. Today it has 24."


What that translates to is this: If we assume that Inquirer reporters work normal schedules, there are substantial portions of any given week when fewer than five journalists provide the primary coverage for a city of 1.4 million people. Major news stories are going untold. Vast stretches of a metropolis are being neglected. And the reporter-to-population ratio will soon worsen, as plans are implemented to cut up to 17 percent of remaining editorial jobs. More significant, as Ed Herman, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and an expert not just on the media but on Philadelphia, told me last year, the sense of civic connection that should be nurtured by a great newspaper is instead fraying. "Newspapers were once thought to bring communities together. That's not the case anymore," he said, explaining, "People aren't stupid. They recognize when their local newspaper loses interest in them as anything but consumers of advertisements."



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