Hold the FCC Accountable on Media Consolidation

Be it a "wardrobe malfunction" or a fake news report, the American people lose when programming and editorial decisions are moved out of our communities and into corporate boardrooms. The health of our democracy depends on media outlets that are responsive to local needs, receptive to diverse views, and responsible stewards of the public airwaves.

By now, it should be clear as day that the FCC's attempts to loosen U.S. media ownership rules threaten these values. In 2003, when the Commission tried to railroad through major rules changes with minimal public input, it was met with ardent opposition by millions of Americans from across the political spectrum, Members of Congress from both parties, and groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to MoveOn.org. In 2004, a U.S. Circuit Court echoed this outcry, calling portions of the rules "irrational" and "patently unreasonable" and sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

If further proof was needed, we received it last week in the form of revelations that the FCC may have suppressed two taxpayer-funded studies on the impact of media consolidation. The first study concluded that local TV stations air more local news than stations owned by networks or media conglomerates, directly contradicting arguments made by the FCC during the 2003 debate. The second found that the number of radio station owners fell by 35 percent between 1996 and 2003, offering further evidence of consolidation in that industry.

I recently authored a letter, cosigned by 33 colleagues, urging the FCC Inspector General to investigate this matter. If the FCC can't be trusted to present the results of its own studies to the American public, how can it be trusted to act in the public's interest when it comes to ownership of our airwaves?