Mark Cooper, CFA 301-384-2204
David Butler, Consumers Union 202-462-6262
CONSUMER GROUPS QUESTION FCC'S POWELL
ON MEDIA DIVERSITY INDEX
INDEX WILL LEAD TO CONCENTRATED OWNERSHIP
THREATENING MEDIA DEMOCRACY
WASHINGTON -Two of the nation's largest consumer organizations, Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumers Union (CU) contend that the media diversity index recently proposed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Powell in its upcoming media ownership rulemaking is not supported by the empirical evidence and will lead to excessive media concentration.
Last week, the Commission signaled that it favors replacing the current broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule and the TV-radio cross-ownership rule with a new "diversity index" which would rely on a mathematical formula to measure the number of media voices in a local market.
In comments delivered today at a forum entitled "Media Concentration and Local Markets" hosted by the Information Policy Institute, Dr. Mark Cooper, Director of Research for Consumer Federation of America and Gene Kimmelman, Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for Consumers Union, argue against the diversity index.
"A shift in the analysis of media products and markets toward the FCC's diversity index model will lead the Commission to mistakenly concluded that local media markets are less concentrated than is actually the case," concludes Cooper. "The result is more concentrated media with less diversity, localism and regard for the public interest."
"Public debate in the media is not primarily about entertainment and not primarily about variety or the number of media outlets," says Kimmelman. "Public debate is about information from diverse sources that are independently owned. Multiple outlets with single owners are only one voice. The FCC cannot reduce its obligation to promote diversity and the public interest to a count of entertainment programs available."
"Media ownership rules are essential to a healthy democracy," says Cooper. "These rules were adopted to ensure that the public would receive a wide range of contrasting perspectives from the media, not simply the opinions of a handful of conglomerates. The stakes for consumers, citizens and the nation are enormous."
"Because of the importance of media to our democracy, we cannot afford to experiment with disaster," Kimmelman warns. "The cost of market failure in media markets is the price we pay when stories are not told and when sleazy accounting practices do not surface. Journalism must continue to act as corporate watchdog not industry lapdog."
CFA and CU released three documents that detail the evidence supporting their concerns. These documents are available upon request.