FCC Lawyer Says TV Study Was Hushed
A former Federal Communications Commission attorney said the agency, in its push to let media companies own more television stations, killed a 2004 study that showed that locally owned TV outlets broadcast more local news because the outcome conflicted with its own agenda.
“The initial results were very compelling, and it was just stopped in its tracks because it was not the way the agency wanted to go,” said Adam Candeub, an assistant law professor at Michigan State University. “The order did come down from somewhere in the senior management of the media bureau that this study had to end ... and they wanted all the copies collected.”
Candeub was an attorney in the FCC’s media bureau at the time but did not work on the study. Critics of media consolidation contend that big station conglomerates often skimp on local news.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican who was on the commission but did not head it in 2004, said he had not seen the study before Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked him about it at a Senate hearing this week. Boxer said the report was given to her by a whistle-blower, and on Thursday she called for an investigation by the FCC’s inspector general after learning of Candeub’s allegation.
“Here they are overseeing the media and supposed to be protecting free speech in the media and destroying every piece of a document they didn’t like,” Boxer said Thursday.
W. Kenneth Ferree, who headed the media bureau in 2004 and has since left the FCC, said Thursday that he had no recollection of the study “or anything to do with it.” Former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who headed the commission at the time, did not return a call seeking comment.
The controversy surrounding the study could be a factor in a new round of FCC deliberations on whether to expand the number of media outlets -- TV, radio and newspapers -- that companies can own in the same market.
“It’s an outrage that this study was deep-sixed,” said Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, a Democrat who voted against relaxing media ownership rules in 2003. Martin and Powell supported the rules, which passed the FCC but were blocked by an appeals court.
The 23-page study -- based on a 1998 database of 4,078 news stories from 60 stations over a five-day period -- found that locally owned TV stations broadcast nearly 5 1/2 minutes more of local news than stations not locally owned. Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said the findings were similar to those he presented in 2003 but would have been significant coming from the FCC’s staff.
Responding to a letter from Boxer on Wednesday, Martin wrote back that he was trying to determine why the study had not been made public and that it was now posted on the FCC website.