Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein Wednesday morning (April 8) called for a government inquiry into how Arbitron's portable people meter (PPM) collects data and affects minority audiences and broadcast stations.
"I'm hopeful that the Commission will soon launch an inquiry into PPM," said Adelstein during the Commission's monthly meeting at FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Some have questioned whether we have the authority to conduct such an inquiry. Apparently they haven't read the Communications Act."
Adelstein said he was concerned about reports from minority-owned and targeted radio stations that their audience numbers had dramatically shrunk since implementation of the new measurement technology almost two years ago. He added that the FCC cannot allow PPM to "damage diversity."
After the Commission's meeting, Adelstein told R&R that he continued to hear complaints about the effects of PPM from minority broadcasters as recently as "last week." And despite the fact that Arbitron has reached settlements with several states, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland, over the implementation of PPM, he is concerned that other states may not benefit from those settlements, noting there has been "no federal action," and that he believes that minorities in all 50 markets should get the same protection from PPM measurement.
David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, told R&R that Adlestein's call for an inquiry was "overdue" and he welcomed Adelstein's proposal. He said it was recognition by the Commission that there is a possible measurement problem and that "democracy needs to keep pace with technology."
In response, Arbitron issued the following statement:
"Arbitron is continuing our long-standing discussions with the customers who are members of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Spanish Radio Association as well as our on-going discussions with all our PPM customers. In these discussions, we are asking for specific ideas for the ways Arbitron can enhance our PPM services in order to explore ways of incorporating these ideas into our continuous improvement programs for PPM. We have already delivered significant enhancements to the PPM system and continue to work on additional enhancements for the benefit of all our customers. One outcome of our discussions: on February 27th, 2009, Arbitron announced it would voluntarily extend–to all PPM markets on a nationwide basis–the key enhancements of our PPM continuous improvement program that we put in place as part of our agreements with the Attorneys General of New York, New Jersey and Maryland. The Media Rating Council (MRC) was founded at the behest of Congress to audit and accredit audience measurement services. Arbitron is committed to the MRC process and is actively pursuing accreditation for all PPM markets."