The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) based its decision to allow more media concentration on the argument that Americans get their news from a wide variety of sources – broadcast TV, cable TV, newspapers, radio and the Internet – so that relaxing media ownership rules wouldn't pose a problem. Unfortunately, the FCC based its decisions on data that was flawed.
Asking the Right Question
The FCC, in moving to deregulate media ownership, didn't ask the right question: What is your most important source for national news?
Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America found the answers to that very question in a survey they conducted in January 2004. The results of this survey showed that many Americans actually get the majority of their national news from a single source: Television. (When it comes to local news, the majority of Americans get their news from newspapers.)
The FCC's claim that cable, radio and the Internet are other highly used information sources falls flat when you consider the statistics quoted in comments and reply comments filed with the FCC Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Media Access Project.
These groups found that almost ten times more viewers get their nightly news from the three major broadcast TV networks, compared to the viewers of all of the cable channels combined. The Project for Excellence in Journalism, in their State of the News Media 2004 report, found even higher numbers: the nightly network news audience in November 2003 was more than twelve times the prime time audience for cable. And Common Cause issued a report, "The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Unintended Consequences and Lessons Learned," (PDF) which shows how telecom deregulation impacted national news coverage.
Why It Matters
This information is important because judges, scholars and advocates have been telling us, for some time, that truth is only found when we get information from a wide variety of sources, expressing different, oftentimes conflicting, viewpoints. That means that when the FCC chooses to allow a small number of media giants to own multiple broadcast TV stations in local communities, it puts the accuracy and quality of our news at risk. And when the FCC chooses to relax cross-ownership rules (allowing a single owner to own the dominant TV station and newspaper in a given market) it placed our local news at even greater risk.
A federal court stopped the FCC from moving forward on its rule changes, but the issue is not over.