WASHINGTON — Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell says he never saw a study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage.
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Powell, now a consultant, said through his assistant Judy Mann that "he never saw the report, he never heard of the report until yesterday and he certainly never ordered anything destroyed or stopped."
The draft report, which surfaced earlier this week, was at odds with agency policy under Powell regarding media ownership issues. A former FCC lawyer told the AP that senior managers at the agency ordered the report be destroyed.
A copy was obtained by U.S.Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who asked about it during a confirmation hearing of current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Tuesday.
(Note: In June of 2006, the FCC announced the start of a new review of media ownership, including a "series of public hearings on media ownership issues at diverse locations across the nation". That review is still ongoing.)
In another development, Boxer on Thursday night asked the FCC to begin a formal investigation into why the report was never circulated. In the letter, Boxer asked the FCC's Office of Inspector General "to conduct an independent investigation into who suppressed this report."
Boxer referenced comments by former FCC lawyer Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, who told the AP that senior managers at the agency ordered that "every last piece" of the report be destroyed. "The whole project was just stopped - end of discussion," he said.
Local ownership benefits
The draft report, written by two economists in the FCC's Media Bureau, analyzed a database of 4,078 individual news stories broadcast in 1998 that showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news.
The conclusion was not consistent with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 on a number of ownership rules, including one that would increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market.
Martin's office confirmed Friday morning it had received Boxer's letter and was reviewing it.
Foes of media consolidation seized on the report as evidence that the FCC under Powell was intent on loosening media ownership rules regardless of any evidence that might indicate such an action would not serve the public interest.
Public advocacy groups Free Press, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and the Media Access Project have called for investigation.
The agency voted to loosen ownership rules in 2003. The action sparked a backlash among the public and within Congress. In June 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the agency's reasoning on most of the rules and ordered it to try again.
The debate has since been reopened, and the FCC has scheduled a public hearing on the matter in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.
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