The Federal Communications Commission has made public a 2004 draft staff report that found that local ownership of television stations added on average almost 5.5 minutes of local news and three minutes of local on-location coverage to newscasts when compared to those with out-of-town ownership.
The report first surfaced last week during a Senate hearing on the renomination of FCC chairman Kevin Martin to the commission. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) produced the 2004 FCC draft report which may have impacted how the commission and lawmakers set media ownership rules had it been made public.
Martin, who was on the commission but not the chairman at the time of the report was written, said he and the current commissioners and FCC senior staff were unaware of the existence of the report until the senator brought it forward. Adding more controversy to the issue was a second previously unreleased report on radio ownership which the senator brought forward Sept. 19.
The FCC staff study on which the previously unsurfaced local TV ownership report was based suggested “locally owned television broadcast stations air more local news than network owned-and-operated and non-locally owned stations, even adjusting for the number of stations owned by the corporate parent.”
The report was prepared as the FCC under former chairman Michael Powell took up the issue of media ownership rules, eventually relaxing various restrictions and ultimately being shut down by the courts. The report may have shed important light on an issue central to the ownership debate: whether or not relaxed television ownership rules allowing networks to reach a larger percentage of the nation’s TV households would negatively impact local coverage and impede broadcast localism. Since the report surfaced, Powell has said publicly that he was unaware of its existence.
To read the draft report in its entirety, visit: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-267448A1.pdf.