Ownership limits need to be relaxed: FCC

MUMBAI: A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study has revealed that media consolidation has not reduced the variety of programmes on television and radio but has resulted in more TV commercials and similar slants in news coverage in the US.

The study is part of the 12 studies carried out by the FCC and universities across the US as part of its review of media-ownership rules, results of which were made public yesterday. Contrary to the belief that increased media consolidation would result in less local programming, the study concludes that network-owned TV stations provide 23 per cent more local news and public affairs programming than network affiliates. It also reveals that TV stations which are jointly owned with newspapers received higher ratings, won more awards and produced more programmes, say media reports.

The study, say reports, was undertaken after the federal appeals court ordered the agency to provide a "factual base" for some of its media rules . The study has made the following discoveries.

# The number of media outlets in 10 sample markets has nearly tripled since 1960, while the number of their independent owners jumped 139 per cent.

# TV, the Web, newspapers and radio all serve as sources for news-seeking consumers.

# Although the average number of radio station owners has fallen from 13.5 to 9.9 in six years, the average number of programme formats is unchanged at 10.

# The growing presence of national owners of local radio stations has driven down ad rates.

Other rules under review include bans on a broadcaster from owning TV stations that reach more than 35 per cent of US homes, owning two stations in smaller cities and owning a newspaper and TV station in one market, and curbs on local radio concentration.

FCC Chairman Michael K Powell who argued that ownership limits in an era of 200-channel cable TV and the Internet are no longer viable, said the FCC will relax the limits based on the findings, when it completes its review early next year.

Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Jeff Chester, however has ripped the studies apart saying,"This is not a serious independent analysis. They did studies that would ratify their own preconception of the marketplace," he has been quoted as saying.

Another study by Joel Waldfogel, professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, reveals that consumers are using the Internet increasingly as a substitute for television news, a finding which can hold the argument that ownership rules are no longer required.

Ironically, these findings contradict findings by a recent Nielsen Media Research survey of 3,000 consumers, who confirm that they mostly used broadcast TV, cable news and daily newspapers to stay informed. The study also reveals that more than 83 per cent rely on TV for national news compared with 21 per cent who use the Internet.

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