On Eve of FCC's Monterey Localism Hearing, Media Unions, Members of Congress Call on FCC Chairman Powell to Hold Full Public Hearings on Media Ownership

Poll of Media Professionals Cites Declining Quality of News Coverage,
Less Diversity of Opinion as Result of Industry Consolidation

Monterey, CA., July 20, 2004 - As the FCC prepares to hear public comments in Monterey on July 21, unions representing half a million media workers joined with Rep. Maurice Hinchey D-NY and other congressional supporters on Capitol Hill in calling for full public hearings as the Federal Communications Commission reconsiders its rules on media ownership.

The FCC, compelled to re-examine its rule-making by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, now has another opportunity to "seek broad-based public input where the impact of such regulatory changes will be felt the most - local media markets," the unions said in a letter to FCC Chairman Powell.

"That is precisely where our members work and where consumers get the bulk of their news, information and entertainment," the unions said. The single field hearing held by the FCC last year was "woefully insufficient" to determine the effect the proposed rule changes would have in an already highly concentrated media industry.

The only hearing scheduled for the western United States will be held Wednesday, July 21, at the Monterey Conference Center at 6 p.m. Testifying at the ticketed event in the 490-seat Steinbeck Auditorium, John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, who will highlight the results of the media workers poll as well as offer specific examples of how media consolidation is undermining localism.

A poll of 400 workers from a broad cross section of print and broadcast news professionals, commissioned by four media unions, provides additional insight into the impact of continued media consolidation on news reporting, diversity of opinion and corporate control of the news.

Front-line media employees believe that industry consolidation already has compromised the quality of news reporting and fear that further media concentration will continue the trend and lead to too much control over the news by a few corporate executives, the poll reveals.

The survey, conducted by Lauer Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., indicated that the media, in the journalists' view, face many serious problems affecting news quality and public credibility today.

Nearly eight out of ten said there has been a lowering of journalistic standards, with the most serious problem facing the industry being too much emphasis on the bottom line, in the view of 83 percent of the participants. Other top concerns include the influence of ratings or circulation on coverage and programming (82 percent); a loss of credibility with the public (79 percent); a declining quality of community coverage (74 percent); incomplete reporting and errors (73 percent), and too little focus on complex issues (72 percent).

The research firm interviewed 400 producers, reporters, editors, anchors, writers, artists and technicians working in print, television, radio and Internet communications.

The sample was scientifically drawn from a universe of 41,000 media workers represented by four organizations that commissioned the survey: The Newspaper Guild, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians - both affiliates of the Communications Workers of America; the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Writers Guild of America, East.

Working in an industry that has been shaken by huge mergers and buyouts among print, broadcast, entertainment and Internet giants, more than half the participants had been affected directly by media deals in the past five years; 20 percent said they had been laid off themselves, and 76 percent knew colleagues and co-workers who were downsized.

A quarter of those surveyed described themselves as either a freelance, daily hire or temporary worker, reflecting the growing marginalization of jobs in the industry.

Many of the survey participants cited understaffing (73 percent) and lack of time and resources to do a professional job (68 percent) as trends that are threatening quality news reporting today. More than half said that employee morale has worsened at their news organization within the past two years.

Sixty-nine percent believe that corporate owners already have too much influence over news coverage. As a result of a growing bottom-line emphasis, 62 percent reported a growth in entertainment coverage at the expense of hard news, 56 percent saw increased coverage of the weather and of scandals, and 47 percent noted more crime coverage by their news outlets in recent years. A plurality (37 percent) reported decreased coverage of local government matters.

Nearly eight out of ten survey participants predicted a negative impact if the Federal Communications Commission is allowed by Congress and the courts to further loosen restrictions over single-company market domination and cross-ownership of TV, radio and newspaper outlets.

Asked to forecast the impact of further media consolidation:

  • 86 percent cited less diversity of viewpoints in local news coverage;
  • 78 percent feared a general, continuing decline of news quality;
  • 86 percent thought control of news and programming decisions will be concentrated in too few corporate hands;
  • 79 percent predicted growing corporate bias in the news.
  • 72 percent foresaw less local community coverage.

Seven out of ten of the journalists rejected the argument made by media owners that the negative impact of consolidation is offset by the growth of cable TV news channels and the Internet.

Of the 400 participants, half work in television (both network and local), a quarter in radio, and the remainder in print journalism for newspapers, magazines, news services and Internet outlets. Three-quarters of respondants have worked in the media field for more than 10 years.

The interviews were conducted by telephone between Feb. 21 and Feb. 29, 2004. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Click here to read the Summary of the Survey
To view the Full Report, click here


Rebecca Rhine
(415) 713-8301 (cell)

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