The Great Local News Heist

The FOX station in Charleston, S.C. is airing one set of news at 10 p.m., and then the CBS affiliate across town is broadcasting the same news — same anchors, same scripts, same everything — an hour later. We received video footage from activists in South Carolina that shows just how similar these supposedly independent newscasts are. In South Carolina, five out of six media markets suffer from the covert consolidation you see in this video. The rest of the country is suffering, too: More than 50 percent of Americans live in areas affected by this harmful practice.[1]

How did this happen? For years, broadcasters have been cutting deals that allow them to build local media empires without any checks and balances. Undeterred by rules designed to ensure that viewers have access to competing sources of local news, media companies have consolidated their operations, colluding in order to cut costs and pad their bottom lines. They found a way to do it without disclosing these deals to anyone, which means our access to diverse sources of news has been hijacked. That’s why we call this trend “covert consolidation.”

There are no limits to how consolidated a market can become when covert consolidation is used to circumvent ownership limitations. In Honolulu, one company controls three local TV stations. In cities like Peoria, Ill. and Wichita Falls, Texas, just two companies control every single TV station in town. And even as big media companies wipe out local news outlets by the dozens, some lawmakers still think broadcasters should be left to their own devices. Even in South Carolina, where covert consolidation has affected most of the state’s residents, Sen. Jim DeMint recently said he thinks the FCC should be "dramatically reducing ownership restrictions regarding television, radio, and newspapers."[2]

As media conglomerates attempt to consolidate their control over the media, it’s important to remember that the airwaves they use belong to the public — you and me — and the FCC needs better rules to protect our interests. That means closing the loopholes that have allowed covert consolidation to become so pervasive — and have destroyed competition, jobs and access to local news.

The FCC has so far failed to so much as study the impact of covert consolidation. The agency is currently reviewing its media-ownership rules, and the time is ripe for action. Sign our petition now and get involved in the campaign to document covert consolidation. Break out your DVR — and help us build our case to the FCC.

[1] Numbers derived from Free Press research. According to the Q1 2011 data on the number of households in each Nielsen Designated Market Area, we determined how many households are located in media markets known to have covert consolidation, specifically those markets where one or more of the following is in place: a Local News Sharing agreement, a Local Marketing Agreement, a Joint Sales Agreement and a Shared Services Agreement. The number of households was multiplied by the average U.S. household size of 2.6. The U.S. population as of 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was 307,006,550.

[2] Mike Reynolds, "DeMint: Government Should Free Media To Innovate," Multichannel News, Oct. 14, 2011:

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good