New Study Confirms Cross-Ownership Leads to Less Local Content
Danilo Yanich, at the University of Delaware, examines a key FCC study on the effects of cross-ownership on local news content in television markets. Yanich finds serious problems with the 2007 study, and with the changes in ownership policies that followed. The project was supported by a grant from the SSRC and conducted in cooperation with the Consumer Federation of America and Free Press.
The study examines the effect that cross-ownership of local television stations and newspapers may have on the local content of newscasts across television markets. It applies a new coding scheme to one of ten research studies (Media Ownership Study No. 6, Milyo, 2007) that was commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission in 2006 to examine issues of cross-ownership. Study 6 concluded that cross-ownership positively affected both the amount of total news and local content. The FCC relied heavily on these findings in its Dec. 2007 decision to significantly relax the restrictions on the cross-ownership of local television stations, despite peer reviews citing various methodological problems with the study, including its definition of “local."
This research uses the same broadcasts as Study 6, but applies a different coding scheme that: 1) defines "local" content according to accepted research used by the FCC in its prior examination of media consolidation, 2) excludes sports and weather general segments from the proportion of total news and local news on broadcasts, and 3) focuses on the DMA (rather than the individual TV station) as the unit of analysis. Counter to Study 6, the research finds that cross-ownership has a small, but statistically significant negative affect on the amount of total news and the amount of local news in the television markets that formed the database for Study 6 research.
This collaborative project has important implications in two areas: 1) policy research regarding the relationship between consolidated ownership and news content, and 2) access to relevant FCC data for the purpose of research and policy-making. In the first instance, this project counters previous FCC-funded research claiming that cross-ownership positively affected news content. Applying sound scientific method, the research shows that cross-ownership negatively affects news content -- evidence that will be used by the FCC, media reformers and others to challenge previous FCC rules regarding consolidation. In the second instance, this research represents a significant change in how the FCC handles raw data that it owns. The study was conducted using data that the FCC reluctantly made available to the Consumer Federation of America and the researcher, which has implications for the larger goal of making FCC data publicly available for sound policy research.
Read the full report here.