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Spiked Study Leads to New FCC Query

The finding, the report noted, "may have policy implications for both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission."

One implication was obvious: If large, out-of-state media conglomerates were allowed to buy up more stations, it could hinder the agency's goal of promoting "localism."

Big broadcasters had spent huge sums lobbying to convince the FCC that rules restricting the number of stations they could own were outdated, unrealistic and should be eliminated.

Brown said he is agnostic on the media ownership issue and wouldn't categorize the study as damning. But he did say it was interesting enough that it should have led to more research.

The two researchers submitted at least eight drafts of the report to other FCC economists and supervisors within the agency's Media Bureau. The bureau oversees policy and licensing of the broadcast television and radio industries. The level of review was unusual, said Brown, who is now an analyst with a federally funded research firm in Virginia.

Eventually, in a meeting with their supervisor, Brown said he and Alexander were told that "the front office wasn't going to let it out and the bureau chief wasn't going to let it out."

By then, a federal appeals court had ruled against the FCC's decision to liberalize ownership rules, sending the case back to the agency and forcing it to start the rulemaking process again.

W. Kenneth Ferree was the chief of the media bureau at the time. He is now a lawyer and lobbyist whose clients include The DirecTV Group. "I don't recall seeing or hearing about the localism report," he said in an interview.

Ferree said however, that he wouldn't have approved of the research project because the localism proceeding had nothing to do with ownership. He said the proceeding was really a process to find out what "stations should do to serve their local communities."

At around the same time the television study was being discussed, another report was being circulated. The agency regularly does economic research on the radio industry, but a study that appears to have been scheduled for release sometime in 2004 never saw the light of day.

A source knowledgeable about that report, who still works at the agency and requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said the reason the report was never circulated was because Ferree did not want it to be released.

At the time, the radio industry was being used as a poster child by critics for what can go wrong when ownership limits are lifted.

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© 2007 The Associated Press