FCC Chairman: Investigate Buried Media Reports

Following Sen. Barbara Boxer's second revelation that Federal Communications Commission officials squelched a report on media consolidation's negative effects for consumers, FCC Commission Chairman Kevin Martin called for a formal investigation.

Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) made the request for an investigation to Martin on Monday--the same day she made public an FCC study about deregulation's effect upon the radio industry, covering 1996 to 2003. According to the report, which was never released to the public, during that period the number of commercial radio stations on the air rose 5.9 percent, but the number of station owners dropped 35 percent.

Last week, during Martin's appearance before the Congress's Commerce Committee, Boxer dropped a similar bombshell: Copies of a draft of an FCC study showing that locally owned stations air more news than stations that are controlled by companies not based locally. Boxer claimed that the report was shelved, and a former FCC lawyer told the Associated Press last week that FCC managers ordered its destruction.

As an FCC Commissioner, Martin had previously voted in support of weakening media-consolidation rules, although at last Tuesday's hearing, he said he may rethink his decision. Both reports were commissioned under the chairmanship of former FCC head Michael Powell, who said Tuesday that he never saw the reports. Powell denied any suggestion that politics might have played a role in suppressing them.

Sen. Boxer has posted a copy of her letter to Martin on her Web site; the FCC has posted Martin's response, as well as PDFs of both studies. Ironically, the mainstream media--whose large, publicly held conglomerates would benefit if the FCC loosened ownership rules--have not shown much interest in the story. While the Associated Press and Reuters covered Boxer's announcement last week, most news outlets carried the AP report online, but not in their dailies or on the evening news. Questioned about it during an online chat session yesterday, The Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz admitted: "We dropped the ball, no question about it."

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