Democracy requires a diverse, robust and free press to inform citizens. The FCC supported this by maintaining its restrictions on media consolidation.
THE Federal Communications Commission made the right decision this summer to preserve its media-ownership rules.
Only minor changes were included when the FCC finally released the rules last week, meaning restrictions on media consolidation will continue. That’s critically important.
Democracy requires a diverse, robust and free press to inform citizens.
That diversity has dwindled because of media consolidation and contraction. Advertising revenue that used to support traditional media has shifted to Google and Facebook, which rely on content produced by others.
We are bombarded by information, yet have less of the information we actually need to be engaged citizens.”
Cracks in the foundation are appearing. They are seen in cities where corruption festers, unnoticed for years, and in elections where voters have scant information about candidates and ballot measures.
We are bombarded by information, yet have less of the information we actually need to be engaged citizens.
Federal regulations that limit consolidation of media companies and preserve as much media diversity as possible are one way to limit further erosion.
The FCC was under pressure by big media companies to loosen its ownership rules. That would have enabled those giants to bring more local media outlets under fewer corporate roofs.
Opponents argue that the restrictions prevent the big companies from investing in local media and bolstering its capabilities. That’s not what happened in the Puget Sound area, where the corporate takeover of KOMO was followed by newsroom cuts.
Another argument is that the internet has changed the competitive landscape. With all sorts of new media outlets, the argument goes, there’s less need for rules preventing companies from monopolizing local news in a particular market.
Yes, a remarkable variety of content is now available online. Many Americans now get much of their news from social networks.
But so far, these sources are no substitute for local coverage provided by newspapers and local TV stations, according to the FCC.
“The record showed that independent online sources ‘currently do not provide a substitute for the original reporting by professional journalists associated with traditional local media,’ ” it said in last week’s release.
Additionally, “the record demonstrates that local news and information available online usually originates from traditional media outlets.”
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in her strong defense of the rules, cited a Pew study that found nearly 89 percent of news and information about local government in major cities came from area newspapers and TV stations.
Regulation is only one part of the solution, and regulators need more timely data. More research is needed as new media sources emerge, traditional media evolve into digital-news providers and people embrace new platforms for delivery.
To keep pace, the FCC must step up the pace of its quadrennial media-ownership reviews; much has changed since the previous review in 2006. Its 2010 review was delayed, partly by challenges, until it morphed into the 2014 review, which was finally released last week.
Traditional local-news providers will likely be just as challenged — but no less vital — when the next review is due in 2018.
One thing is clear: Continuing regulation of newspaper-broadcast combinations is imperative to protect diverse media voices.