Missoula’s media landscape—along with others throughout Montana—could change dramatically under new media ownership rules the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering, according to a new study.
On Oct. 19, Media and Democracy, a national coalition of consumer groups, released an examination of media markets in 15 states and how they could change. The new rules would loosen a long-standing ban on cross-ownership between newspapers and television and radio stations, thus allowing one company to own both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city. The FCC will accept written comments on its proposal through Dec. 21; learn more at www.fcc.gov/ownership.
The FCC first repealed the ban on cross-ownership in 2003, despite substantial public opposition, but that action was overturned in 2004 by a federal appeals court that found the FCC couldn’t justify its decision. Now the FCC has again undertaken an effort to change the rules.
The shift would have harmed Montana consumers then, and it’s still a rotten idea, according to Media and Democracy Coalition members including Montana Common Cause, Montana Public Interest Research Group and the Montana Human Rights Network.
“Montana citizens already face highly concentrated markets with few choices of news and views,” their study reads. “Possible mergers would only make matters worse, risking both localism and democracy. Even in Billings, the largest market in the state, any cross-media merger involving the top two newspaper and television firms would increase concentration…in the smaller markets, the outlook is even worse.”
The independent study complements a 2003 report commissioned and then destroyed by the FCC; that report came to light only in September 2006 when a copy was leaked, and that found that locally owned television stations provide more local news than do conglomerate stations—a conclusion that contradicted then-Chairman Michael Powell’s contention that consolidation doesn’t hurt local media. Following California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s demand for an investigation into the study’s suppression, the AP reported Sept. 13, a former FCC lawyer said managers ordered “every last piece” of the study be destroyed.