Tracking the Coverage
By Charles Layton & Melissa Cirillo
Many say that major media companies failed to inform the
public adequately about the Federal Communications Commission's plans to relax media ownership rules earlier this year.
Charles Layton (email@example.com) is a former editor and reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer and a former AJR senior contributing writer. Melissa Cirillo is a former AJR editorial assistant.
The following shows the coverage by a number of news organizations, all of which are owned by large corporations with a significant stake in the outcome.
This list covers a period of five months--from January 1, when the debate was starting to heat up in earnest, to June 1, the day before the FCC formally voted to allow greater concentration of ownership.
The information on TV coverage is from LexisNexis and the Vanderbilt University Television Archives. As a further check, we invited the networks to supply their own listings of their coverage, or to verify ours.
The newspaper information is from the papers' online archives. We also asked librarians and other officials at the newspapers to vet our findings.
The list includes news stories as well as editorials and letters to the editor--any printed material that might contribute to a reader's understanding of the issue. Exceptions are advertisements and graphic elements such as editorial cartoons or freestanding photos with captions.
Owned by the Walt Disney Company. The company's holdings include the ABC network, ESPN, the Disney Channel, and part ownership of A&E and the History Channel, plus interests in publishing, TV and movie production and distribution, music, sports teams, theme parks, financial and retail ventures, six TV stations and 63 radio stations.
May 15 * "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" segment on arguments for and against ownership concentration. Cited a radio ownership monopoly in Minot, North Dakota, as an example of the problem.
May 18 * "World News Saturday" segment on a small-town radio station in Texas that might disappear if the FCC changed its rules. No mention of media other than radio. No explanation of the corporate interests involved.
May 28 * "Nightline" devoted its half-hour program to the issue.
May 30 * "World News Tonight" segment on the widespread public outrage provoked by the FCC's plans.
June 1 * "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos explained the rule changes, interviewed FCC Chairman Michael Powell and had a round-table discussion on the subject.
Owned by Viacom. The company's holdings include the CBS network, 39 TV stations, 176 radio stations, MTV, VH1, TV Land, Nickelodeon, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Video, TV production and distribution companies, and an amusement park chain.
May 13 * "CBS Morning News" item, 50 words.
May 29 * "CBS Evening News" segment. Quotes from FCC Chairman Powell and two other sources.
May 30 * "CBS Morning News" segment, very short. Notes that CBS, NBC, Fox and other owners have merged newsrooms in cities where they have multiple holdings. Cites a threat to diversity of viewpoints.
Owned by General Electric. The company's holdings include NBC, CNBC, Telemundo and 14 TV stations. It shares ownership of MSNBC, A&E and the History Channel, owns numerous non-media businesses and is one of the world's largest military contractors.
May 28 * "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw." Segment quotes Commissioners Powell and Michael Copps, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher and News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch.
Fox News Channel
Owned by News Corporation. The company's holdings include the Fox network, the Fox News Channel, 34 TV stations in the U.S., 20th Century Fox, the New York Post, sports teams, and ventures in TV production, cable and satellite, recording, magazine and book publishing, plus numerous media holdings overseas.
May 30 * "Your World with Neil Cavuto" segment, 1,124 words. Interview with Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, and Harold
Furchtgott-Roth, a former FCC chairman. Cavuto says the FCC has "a decision some say could change television as we know it and a lot more."
Owned jointly by General Electric and Microsoft.
May 30 * "Scarborough Country" segment. Interviews with Mike Bracy of the Future of Music Coalition and Mike Mills of R.E.M. on how consolidation affects artistic freedom.
June 1 * "Scarborough Country" segment. Interviews with R.E.M.'s Mills. Discussion similar to May 30.
Owned by General Electric.
May 28 * 2,304-word segment on "Capital Report." FCC Chairman Powell discusses the upcoming vote.
May 29 * 92-word segment on "Capital Report." Coverage says nation's top broadcasters have met with FCC much more than public interest groups have.
May 30 * 1,302-word segment on "Capital Report." Further discussion of FCC proposal with Copps.
Owned by Time Warner, the world's largest media company. The company's holdings include HBO, CNN, CNNfn, Court TV, TNT, Time Warner Cable, Cartoon Network, Time-Life Books, Warner Bros. and other film and TV production/distribution businesses, music companies, sports teams, theme parks, merchandise retailing. Magazines include Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People and many more.
May 27 * Segment on "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Interview with FCC Chairman Powell. Introduction explains how "opposition to relaxing the rules has brought together strange bedfellows."
May 27 * Segment on "Live from the Headlines," 802 words.
May 27 * Further coverage on "Live from the Headlines." Quotes from media company lobbyist and former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley and Jenny Toomey of the Future of Music Coalition.
May 27 * "American Morning" segment, 1,037 words. Guests: Richard Wiley, Chellie Pingree of Common Cause.
May 30 * "CNN Evening News" segment. Discussion of differing views on television ownership.
June 1 * "CNN Evening News" segment. Powell says the current rules are outdated. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voices concern about diversity and localization.
CNNfn ran the following stories on its business news programs:
May 13 * 985-word segment on "Money and Markets." Guest: Kenneth Ferree, chief of the FCC's media bureau.
May 13 * 1,388-word segment on "Market Call." Headline: "Diversity of Media Voices Under Attack." Guests: FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy and Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America.
May 23 * 1,309-word segment on "The Biz." Headline: "Opposition Swells for FCC Vote on Media Ownership." Guests: Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and Celia Wexler of Common Cause.
May 27 * 1,156-word segment on "Money and Markets." Guests: Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project and Randolph May of the Progress and Freedom Foundation.
May 27 * 504-word segment on "Money and Markets." Discussion of upcoming FCC action.
Owned by Tribune Co. The company's holdings include 13 daily newspapers, 26 TV stations, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Cubs and various Web sites.
January 3 * A story on the business front, 874 words, looks at deregulation entirely as a business opportunity, with no mention of the opponents' issues. A caption to a photo of FCC Chairman Powell says he "could provide some welcome relief for media companies if he ends restrictions on ownership."
February 27 * A clear account, 839 words, from Tribune's Washington bureau, explaining the actions the FCC is considering. Includes some of the arguments of the Tribune Co. and other media firms but not those of consumers, although it quotes Commissioner Copps as saying the FCC is acting without sufficient citizen input. Runs on page 15 of the A section.
Feb. 28 * 196-word AP story on page three of the business section, on the FCC's public hearing in Richmond.
March 9 * Lengthy editorial in favor of relaxing the ownership rules, especially on cross-ownership of newspaper and TV properties in the same market.
March 28 * Story, 109 words, on page two of the metro section. Notes the educational forum scheduled for April 2 at Northwestern University School of Law.
April 2 * Column on page one of the business section. Discusses radio ownership but not the TV and newspaper issues. Quotes from FCC Commissioner Copps and a mention of that day's forum at Northwestern.
April 9 * 183-word Reuters story.
April 13 * Major story, 2,058 words, on page one of the arts section about Clear Channel, the radio company. Mentions the FCC's upcoming vote on ownership rules but does not address the main issues.
May 11 * Major page-one story, with two related stories on the business front. Explains the important issues. Very comprehensive reporting.
May 13 * Story on the business front, 660 words, on FCC unveiling its plans for rule changes.
May 14 * Story from Tribune's Washington bureau, 423 words, on page two of the business section. Says opponents are seeking a delay on the FCC's planned June 2 vote.
May 16 * Story, 541 words, on page three of the business section. Says FCC chief refuses to delay the vote.
May 20 * AP story, 116 words, about a senator asking FCC to delay action. Page two of the business section.
May 22 * Letter from a reader, complimenting Tribune on its May 11 package.
May 31 * Story on the business front, 701 words. Says FCC is expected to OK rule changes.
June 1 * Story on the business front, explaining Tribune Co.'s probable acquisition strategy following the FCC's action.
Owned by Tribune Co.
February 27 * Story on page three of the business section, in advance of the FCC's public hearing in Richmond.
February 28 * Story about the Richmond hearing on the business front. Includes comments by Chris Powell, editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, a rival of the Courant, complaining about the Tribune Co.'s dominance in Connecticut.
March 2 * On page three of the commentary section, the Courant's reader representative, Karen Hunter, rebuts charges by the Journal Inquirer that the Courant has withheld news about the issue. She says the business and editorial pages have been carrying stories on the issue since 2001.
March 7 * Story on page three of the business section says a key FCC official favors relaxing ownership rules.
March 28 * Short item, page two of the business section. FCC's Powell says he favors allowing cross-ownership.
April 11 * Short story on page three of the business section. Senators ask FCC to disclose their plans for changing the rules.
April 25 * "Morning Briefing" column on page two of the business section includes five paragraphs about the Bush administration's urging FCC to deregulate.
April 28 * Lengthy editorial favors repealing the cross-ownership ban.
May 3 * Letter to the editor says FCC changes are a threat to democracy.
May 4 * Column on page four of the local news section, written by a freelancer and local talk show host, makes fun of the Courant's April 28 editorial.
May 6 * Story on the business front says both sides digging in as FCC vote nears.
May 8 * Two letters to the editor replying to the April 8 editorial. One calls the editorial "misleading and self-serving."
May 10 * Six-paragraph item on page two of the business section, on the state attorney general's possible plans to block FCC actions in Connecticut.
May 13 * Story on page three of the business section says FCC staff favors easing rules.
May 14 * Story on page three of the business section says FCC's plans face stiff resistance from some in Congress.
May 22 * Opinion piece, on page two of the Life section by a journalism teacher, says "public would be hurt" by raising the 35 percent cap but that allowing cross-ownership makes sense.
Los Angeles Times
Owned by Tribune Co.
January 2 * Story on the business front. Major ad agency opposes FCC's plans for more ownership concentration.
January 3 * Story inside the business section. Fox, Viacom and other networks ask FCC to relax rules.
January 15 * Story on the business front. FCC chairman testifies about ownership rules before a Senate committee.
January 15 * Column by Brian Lowry on front of Calendar section. Warns of less news and public affairs programming if FCC relaxes rules.
January 17 * Story on page three of the business section says Powell is "frustrated at growing criticism" over the rule changes.
January 26 * 1,525-word story on the business front. Ordinary citizens lobbying the FCC.
February 10 * Story on the business front. Powell and another commissioner, Kevin Martin, differ over deregulation.
February 18 * Story on the business front. Major networks and local station owners at odds over raising the ownership cap.
February 28 * Story on the business front airing the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the FCC.
March 5 * Page-one story. Powell is pressing his agenda despite criticism.
March 6 * Story on the business front on possible lifting of the 35 percent cap.
March 28 * Story on the business front. Fight within FCC over media merger rules.
April 28 * Story on page E3 about cross-ownership. Deals in particular with L.A. Times' ownership of a local TV station.
May 1 * Commentary on page B15. "Media monopolies have muzzled dissent."
May 1 * Commentary on the business front saying lifting ownership caps would "set off a land rush."
May 5 * Story on page B10 on media monopolies' effect on dissent.
May 7 * Page-one story on the ownership debate; deals with cross-ownership in Tampa, Fla.
May 9 * Story inside the business section about a controversy over Belo Corp.'s secret dealings with the FCC.
May 10 * Story on the business front, says FCC staff backs relaxing 35 percent cap.
May 13 * Brief inside the business section says FCC proposal would ease ownership rules.
May 14 * Story on the business front. Senators introduce bill to block FCC's efforts to raise 35 percent cap.
May 16 * Editorial. Favors relaxing the ownership rules.
May 19 * Commentary piece about companies owning two stations in a single city and sharing news staffs and stories.
May 20 * Story on the business front examines Disney CEO's position on media consolidation.
May 22 * Story inside the business section reports on the Center for Public Integrity's finding that FCC members accepted trips paid for by companies it regulates--$2.8 million worth of trips over eight years.
May 27 * Story on the business front says some radio stations owned by big corporations try to sound more independent than they are.
May 30 * Story inside the entertainment section says Viacom set to take advantage when FCC eases rules.
May 30 * Story on the business front says a company owning two stations in the same market is good for business, but may be bad for viewers.
June 1 * Long, detailed analysis by media writer David Shaw. Calls FCC's impending action a "big mistake."
Owned by Cox Enterprises. The company's holdings include 17 daily newspapers, 15 TV stations, 79 radio stations, more than 130 Web sites, and the fourth-largest cable provider in the country.
March 28 * Daily Briefing on page two of the business section notes Powell's stated desire to ease ownership rules and the tentative June 2 date for a vote.
May 2 * Daily Briefing on page two of the business section mentions Powell's proposal to ease the cap on ownership.
May 16 * Daily Briefing on page two of the business section discusses Powell's rejection of a 30-day postponement request on the June 2 vote.
Owned by Gannett. The company's holdings include 100 daily newspapers, 22 TV stations, more than 100 Web sites and various marketing, printing and technology services.
February 2 * Commentary by Molly Ivins cites the ownership issue as "a dandy example of the kind of thing that never makes it to the front page or the top of the news broadcast but that affects absolutely everyone."
March 5 * Story inside the business section briefly mentions the ownership issue in a story discussing Powell's contention that the FCC is not politically divided.
March 17 * Editorial declares that allowing cross-ownership is a good idea and "reflects changing times."
March 22 * Letter to the editor, in response to the March 17 editorial, says the media are becoming a single voice--a problem ignored for too long, the writer says.
May 13 * Story on the business front explains FCC's proposed rules changes.
May 14 * Story inside the business section explains FCC's proposals to a Senate committee. Says Sen. John McCain is confident the FCC will act in the public's interest.
May 17 * The ownership issue is briefly mentioned in a story about censorship on page one of the local news section.
May 23 * Column by William Safire of the New York Times concerning Kevin Martin, a Republican member of the FCC who Safire says could be a swing vote on June 2. Headline says: "One 36-year-old holds media's future."
May 23 * Story on page nine of the A section says Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, calls for easing ownership rules.
May 26 * Opinion piece on page B9: "FCC should relax ownership quotas."
May 28 * Story inside the business section quotes FCC chairman as saying ownership rules need to be eased.
Dallas Morning News
Owned by Belo. The company's holdings include four daily newspapers, 19 TV stations, 34 Web sites and two regional cable news channels.
January 4 * 930-word story on page 1F. "Mixed signals sent on media ownership; businesses, individuals flood FCC with ideas for and against limits."
March 9 * Commentary on page 2J says cross-ownership ban "needs to go."
April 6 * Story on page 4G discusses local opposition to ownership consolidation.
April 13 * Story on page 2G mentions Sam Donaldson's interview with Powell, in which the chairman said the FCC was "actively considering a new formula that would redefine how 'diversity of voice' within a market might be calculated."
April 20 * Story on page 2G about satellite radio and niche listeners mentions ownership consolidation. Briefly discusses the claim of several U.S. senators that the FCC hasn't given "proper public notice on the specific changes it is reviewing."
May 13 * 82-word story on page four of the business section says the FCC "may change policy on ownership of TV stations [and] newspapers."
May 14 * 747-word story on page two of the business section, headlined: "Senators balk at media rules; FCC proposal would allow too much consolidation, they say."
May 18 * Story on page 1G concerning local radio issues. Mentions Powell's refusal to make his proposals public so the people can debate them.
May 25 * Story on page 2G addressing a local radio issue quotes FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein as saying the coming rules changes would create an "unprecedented wave of consolidation."
May 28 * Story on page 2G: "FCC chief defends easing media rules."
May 29 * 1,245-word story on the business front. Headline: "FCC expected to ease media rules; industry changes, competition concerns frame ownership debate."
May 29 * 451-word story on page 12 of the business section: "Most station owners support current rules."
June 1 * 1,176-word story on the business front says FCC plans to ease ownership rules the following day. Says an "unlikely coalition" is trying to prevent the action "but it lacks the votes."