Clear Channel EVP/Chief Legal Officer Andrew Levin told the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that the decision to loosen local radio ownership caps in 1996 was an industry-saving maneuver, and now it’s time to do it again. He’d like to see the cap upped to 12 stations in the largest markets.
Two panelists representing companies with television interests, Sidney Bliss of Bliss Communications and Jerald N. Fritz of Allbritton Communications, called for loosening the cross-ownership restrictions. Fritz in particular noted that his company was forced to separate WJLA-TV and the Washington Star in Washington DC, and the company that bought the newspaper killed it off shortly thereafter — to the detriment of local diversity. Their opinions were echoed by John Sturm of the Newspaper Association of America.
Juan Gonzalez of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and E. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women both decried the disgraceful levels of minority ownership. Gonzalez said one result was that almost all mainstream reporting on Hispanics was about crime or immigration, presenting a distorted view of that population to the general public. Williams protested Martin’s pet desire for a la carte cable menu, saying that it would kill off niche cable programmers.
NABOB’s Jim Winston had three requests: (1) Reinstate minority tax credit. (2) Prevent FCC from further dereg until minority ownership initiatives adopted. (3) Investigate Arbitron’s PPM, which appears to be seriously flawed. He said the PPM situation, and the harm he said it was doing to Hispanic and Black broadcasters, which he labeled as "sinister," warranted a separate Congressional investigation. The problem centers around suddenly lower listener counts, causing advertisers to demand lower rates. He said advice to program to the results amounted to a suggestion to abandon Urban formats and was unacceptable.
Watchdog Andrew Jay Schwartzman of Media Access Project said that if all broadcasters were like Bliss or Allbritton there would be no need for this hearing. But there is absolutely no national sentiment to allow Clear Channel to acquire further stations. He noted that Clear Channel is even now laying off employees to increase sales staff, and admired its chutzpah for complaining about the pending XM merger, and uses it as an excuse to buy more stations, even while it has owned thousands of shares in XM. On cross-ownership, he noted that studies unequivocally show that such combinations lower overall news in a market. He also argued that allowing strategic partnerships between TV and newspaper was preferable to allowing co-ownership.