Bigger Media Does Not Equal Better Media -- Research Released October 23, 2006

Does Bigger Media Equal Better Media?
Four New Studies Cast a Critical Eye on Media Ownership Consolidation

The Benton Foundation and the Social Science Research Council released four independent academic studies of the impact of media consolidation in the U.S. The studies focus on how the concentration of media ownership affect media content, from local news reporting to radio music programming and how minority groups have fared – as both media outlet owners and as historically-undeserved audiences -- in an increasingly deregulated media environment. These studies make clear that media consolidation does not correlate with better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened not relaxed.

The studies are intended to inform the FCC's reexamination of media ownership restrictions and have been filed with the FCC during the initial public comment period ending Monday, October 23.

Benton president and former FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani framed the importance of these studies, stating, “This is about everything we hear and see and read through the media. At stake is how TV, radio, newspapers and even emerging media will look, what role they will play in citizens’ lives, and who, if anyone, will control them and for what purposes.”

Joe Karaganis, program director at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), commented that the goal of the SSRC is “to ensure that public policy is informed by rigorous data and analysis, and by a wide range of perspectives. Our role in this process has been that of a facilitator of a larger conversation among researchers interested in media ownership.”

The four studies examine key relationships between ownership, programming, and community impact.

Peter DiCola, of the University of Michigan and the Future of Music Coalition, examines how the concentration of radio station ownership affects the diversity of music programming. DiCola comments that the purpose of the study is to answer the question, "Do radio companies offer more variety when they exceed the local ownership cap?” He finds that “those station groups that came to exceed the local ownership caps focus their programming primarily on just six types of formats: news, adult contemporary, rock, classic rock, country, and top 40.” He concludes, “Large station groups in excess of the local ownership cap do not offer more variety -- they offer less -- and the FCC should not raise the local ownership caps in the expectation that large station groups will suddenly change their ways.”

Dr. Carolyn Byerly of Howard University examines FCC data on minority and women-owned media. She finds that women and minorities ownership is really miniscule. Women hold a majority interest in only 3.4%, and minorities own a majority interest in only 3.6% of the total number of stations. Thus, Dr. Byerly concludes that “FCC policy has done almost nothing to open access to the airwaves for women and minorities… Communication policy must include ways for women and minority groups to acquire more stations in communities of all sizes.”

Byerly, along with with her colleagues Jamila A. Cupid and Kehbuma Langmia, also examined minority perspectives on the media coverage of minority communities, drawing on 196 interviews with African-Americans, Africans, Latinos and Asians in the Washington DC and Maryland area. Among their findings, Carolyn notes that “television is the preferred source for news and the 20% who use radio news overwhelmingly preferred stations that were minority-owned, because these stations, they said ‘tell us the truth,’ and ‘know what is really going on.’” Dr. Byerly recommends that “FCC policy needs to assure that stations pay attention to public affairs issues relevant to minority communities, as well as to expand minority media ownership.”

Michael Yan of the University of Michigan analyzes the relationship between newspaper and television cross-ownership and the provision of local news and public affairs programming. Of this research, Dr. Phil Napoli of the McGannon Communications Research Center at Fordham University notes that the purpose of the study was to “test the assertion that has frequently been made on behalf of allowing newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, that allowing such cross-ownership will produce benefits in terms of cross-owned stations providing more local news and public affairs programming than other stations.” To the contrary, the study finds that “cross-ownership is not related to the quantity of local news provided. Similarly, the results of the analysis of public affairs-providing stations show that cross-ownership is not related to the quantity of public affairs programming provided. These results cast significant doubt on the logic that cross-ownership can promote greater availability of important types of local programming such as news and public affairs.”

Principal Findings and Recommendations

MEDIA OWNERSHIP MATTERS: Localism, the Ethnic Minority News Audience and
Community Participation

—Carolyn M. Byerly, Kehbuma Langmia and Jamila A. Cupid

This project used ethnographic and survey research to discern patterns in news consumption
among minorities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and to determine whether news consumption
contributes to civic involvement. Scholars interviewed 196 people, two-thirds of whom
were African American, the rest comprising Latino, African or other ethnicities.


  • Most prefer news from television (48%) to newspapers (28%) and radio (18%).
    Those who use radio prefer minority-owned radio stations because “they give you the
    only accurate reporting.”
  • A significant number of the African-Americans surveyed (12 %) perceive widespread
    media bias against African American communities. Among the examples given:
    • White murder victims were reported to get more sympathetic treatment than
      Black victims.
    • Some noted that important community events are ignored, such as the retire
      ment of a well-known civil rights leader.
  • 40% said the news does not help them to understand the problems that are most
    important to them – safety, lack of income, and lack of affordable housing.


  • The study supports the existing FCC rationale for encouraging minority ownership,
    while raising serious questions about whether current measures go far enough. We con
    clude that the FCC needs to reaffirm and expand its commitment to diversity of own
    ership—especially at the local level and among minority groups.
  • Local stations—especially commercial television stations—are insufficiently attentive to
    issues of underrepresentation and misrepresentation of news and affairs in minority
    communities. Thus, the FCC needs to monitor fulfillment of the localism principle
    more intently.

QUESTIONING MEDIA ACCESS: Analysis of Women and Minority FCC Ownership

—Carolyn M. Byerly
The goals of this project were to discern patterns in ownership of broadcast media by women and
minorities and to compare these to general trends in media ownership. We analyzed Form 323
reports, filed with the FCC, for the year 2005, with some comparison to 2003.


  • FCC data indicate that media ownership opportunities for women and minority groups
    remain extremely limited. Of the 12,844 radio and television stations that filed reports
    with the FCC in 2005, women own 3.4% and minorities own 3.6%.
  • Most of the media owned by women and minority broadcasters are AM or FM radio
    (89% for women, 87% for minorities) —a medium with relatively low costs of entry
    and barriers to ownership in rural areas.
  • Nearly all broadcast stations with majority women and/or minority ownership in the
    FCC reports for 2005 are located in rural areas and small towns (71% for minorities,
    87% for women).


  • FCC responsibility for expanding women and minority media ownership is based on the
    recognition that patterns of social marginalization are reinforced by a lack of access to
    channels of communication. Lack of access diminishes the ability of groups to partici
    pate fully in public discourse and political debate.
  • Current data indicate that (1) the FCC has made very little progress in this area, and
    that (2) ownership limitations provide support for these goals by increasing ownership
    opportunities overall.
  • Unenforced reporting requirements, data-entry errors, duplicate filing, and other probl
    ematic aspects of FCC data collection make accurate accounts of minority and women’s
    ownership difficult. A more serious FCC engagement with these issues must begin with
    better data collection.


—Peter DiCola

This study seeks to answer the question “Do larger radio station groups offer more variety?”.
DiCola notes that the method by which the FCC defines markets shapes how the local ownership
caps will actually be enforced. From 1992 until 2004, the FCC’s signal-contour market definition
allowed more consolidation than Arbitron’s market definition would have allowed.
Because of mergers allowed during the signal-contour market definition era, in 104 markets there
is now at least one radio company or organization that exceeds the local ownership cap.


  • Station groups that are over the cap and station groups that are exactly at the cap offer
    less variety in programming formats than station groups that are under the cap.
  • Relatively uncommon or “niche” formats like classical, jazz, folk, tejano, and gospel are
    least common among station groups that are over the cap or exactly at the cap—even
    though those station groups have the most spectrum to spend on niche formats—
    while being much more common among station groups that are under the cap.


  • The FCC should retain its current local ownership caps in the service of content diver
    sity. In the radio market, consolidation and content diversity are at odds.
  • The FCC should consider a policy of mandated divestiture for those station groups
    that exceed the local ownership cap.


—Michael Zhaoxu Yan

This study was conducted to test the proposition—often asserted in media ownership proceedings—
that consolidated media ownership allows for more and better investment in news and public
affairs programming. This study analyzes the relationship between local newspaper/television
cross-ownership and the presence and quantity of local news and local public affairs programming
on broadcast television. The analysis is based on a two-week constructed random sample of television
programming in 2003 for 226 randomly selected, plus 27 cross-owned television stations.


  • Cross-owned television stations do not provide more local news and a local public affairs
    programming than do independently-owned stations.
  • Cross-ownership does not correlate with either the presence or the quantity of local
    public affairs programming.


  • Cross-ownership is not associated with any meaningful improvement (in terms of pro
    gram quantity) in station performance, relative to comparable stations, in the local news
    and public affairs arenas.
  • Thus, changes in ownership rules by the FCC can not be justified in terms of claimed
    improvements in local news and public affairs programming.

Read the full report at
For more on media ownership see