Sep 20 2006

FCC To Investigate Suppressed Reports

But presses on with proceedings on media ownership

Following pressure from FAIR and others, Federal Communications Commission Chair Kevin Martin has ordered an inspector general investigation (AP, 9/19/06) into the suppression of two FCC media ownership reports.

One report, highlighted in FAIR’s September 15 Action Alert, found in 2004 that local television ownership increases local news content by nearly five-and-a-half minutes and total news content by six minutes in a 30-minute broadcast. In response to reports that the FCC had ordered all copies of this report destroyed, FAIR called on activists to urge the FCC’s inspector general to launch an investigation.

The second report, dated 2003 but only revealed on September 18 after being leaked to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), showed that following the loosening of ownership rules in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the number of commercial stations had increased by nearly 6 percent, but the number of radio station owners had fallen 35 percent (AP, 9/18/06).

And there may be more suppressed studies; Communications Daily reported (9/20/06) that Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation made a Freedom of Information Act request on August 10 for a radio study on localism and media ownership—similar to the television report uncovered by Boxer—that it says was never published.

At the same time that it has suppressed reports that undermine Commission members’ push to further deregulate the industry, in recent years the FCC has publicized reports it has commissioned that have supported its deregulation agenda—raising the question of whether the FCC was cherry-picking publication of its publicly-funded studies. In 2002, the FCC released twelve studies that suggested that media consolidation did not in fact hurt diversity or localism (LA Times, 10/2/02). The next year the FCC, chaired by Michael Powell, voted to loosen media ownership rules, which were overturned by an appeals court.

Boxer wrote a letter to the FCC asking that the agency “examine whether it was then or is now the practice of the FCC to suppress facts that are contrary to a desired outcome.”

Martin wrote in a response to Boxer (AP, 9/19/06), “I want to assure you that I too am concerned about what happened to these two draft reports…[and] will cooperate fully with [the inspector general].”

FAIR welcomes the investigation and thanks activists who contacted the FCC. Martin noted that the two reports would be entered into the record of the FCC’s current review of localism and media ownership; FAIR encourages activists to file their own comments on the media ownership proceedings as well:

In light of the recently-revealed reports and the likelihood of more suppressed reports yet to be uncovered, however, moving forward with those proceedings without waiting for the inspector general’s report virtually assures that the investigation will have little or no impact on the important ownership rules the FCC is about to make. It is crucial that the FCC delay its decision until the investigation is completed and all the evidence uncovered can be considered.

ACTION: Tell the FCC to delay its decision on media ownership rules until after the inspector general’s investigation is completed.

CONTACT: has a web form for you to file public comments with the FCC on this issue:

FAIR encourages you to write your own original comments in the space provided.