In the last few months, attention of the broadcast press has been focused on the pressing regulatory issues of the day – matters such as content regulation (indecency, violence and junk food advertising), the digital conversion of radio and TV, and the new digital media landscape and its impact on broadcasters (XM/Sirius, You Tube and Internet video, and Internet radio). Almost forgotten is the multiple ownership proceeding that began in earnest last summer when the FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rule making (see our summary here), but which has really been pending in front of the Commission since the US Court of Appeals issued its Stay of the FCC’s 2003 Order adopting "new" ownership rules. This week, at least some attention was brought back to the issue following the release by the organization Free Press of a study that purports to document the effects that consolidation has had on minority and female ownership in the broadcast media. Coupled with an electronic press conference featuring the two Democratic FCC Commissioners, the report merited an article in the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream press outlets. It is a study that should be read by broadcasters, as it will likely form part of the debate on this most important issue.
While studies have been issued on and off throughout the debate over the multiple ownership rules, seemingly proving almost whatever the party providing the study wants to prove, this study should not be ignored. Executive summaries and a full copy of the report can be found here. The report purports to show that consolidation in the media holds down minority and female ownership. And, unlike many other studies that have obvious design flaws and seem to be based on faulty assumptions, this one considers many of the obvious objections. It does not under count minority ownership – in fact it takes the FCC to task for under counting such ownership, and actually reports higher amounts of minority and female ownership than the FCC itself had acknowledged. The report also addresses the usual response to such studies – that it is a question of access to capital that results in the disparities – by doing a comparison of minority and female ownership in broadcasting to that ownership in other industries, and finding broadcasting very close to the bottom in diverse ownership.
While there certainly are findings in any study that can be disputed – and issues of that arise whenever anyone tries to assess causality (does consolidation cause a lack of diverse owners, or are there other issues that cause any lack of minority ownership), and no doubt such issues will be found in this study. But broadcasters should review this study and assess its findings now, so that they can be addressed in the debate on the ownership issues. As we have written before, ownership is unlikely to be considered in the near term – and very well may be pushed off until after the 2008 elections – but nevertheless the debate will go on throughout the coming year, so broadcasters need to be ready.