One of the biggest arguments against liberalizing the cross-ownership of media properties in a local market—that it would limit minority and female ownership—was shot down in a study conducted as part of the Federal Communications Commission's long-overdue review of media ownership rules.
Submitted Thursday to acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, the study concluded that "cross-media interests' impact on minority and women broadcast ownership is not sufficiently material to be a material justification for tightening or retaining the rules."
Clyburn had pushed for a study of the impact of cross-ownership on minority and women earlier this year when the FCC was deadlocked over former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's draft that proposed to lift the ban on owning a newspaper and radio station in the same market. The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council offered to commission and pay for the independent study, promising to deliver it to the FCC by the end of May.
Conducted by research firm BIA/Kelsey, the study was based on responses to an eight-question questionnaire from 14 broadcast owners representing 31 stations. "We are struck by the lack of any large concern by almost all of the respondents to these cross-media operations," wrote Mark Fratrik, BIA/Kelsey's vp and chief economist.
Owners in only one market cited cross-media ownership as having a competitive impact on business.
Delivering the study, David Honig, the MMTC's president, cautioned that the study "was not intended to be exhaustive. This study was not a comprehensive examination of all of the women and/or minority owned stations in all of the markets in which a commonly owned cross-media operation is present. Additionally, FCC and public interest groups' economists agree that the number of these instances is not large enough to conduct a random sample study to elicit generalizable results."
Critics of doing away with the ban on cross-media ownership used a different word to describe the study: "flawed."
"This qualitative approach might have yielded some interesting anecdotes, but it's not a substitute for real analysis of likely outcomes from the disastrous rule changes pushed by former chairman Genachowski," said Matt Wood, the policy director for Free Press. The liberal group cried foul when the study was commissioned because the MMTC, which favored lifting the ban on radio-newspaper cross-ownership, hired BIA/Kelsey, a researcher best known for its broadcast clientele.
Even BIA/Kelsey agreed the results were not "dispositive" in giving the FCC a clear answer to whether it should go ahead and loosen the media ownership rules, which have already been delayed more than three years.
So where does this leave the FCC's review of media ownership rules? About where it started last fall when Genachowski first circulated the draft, except now the FCC is down two commissioners. With only three commissioners, the FCC will probably put out the study for comment, delaying a final decision until nominee Tom Wheeler and an as yet-to-be-named GOP commissioner are sworn in at the commission, putting the FCC at full strength.