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Spiked Study Leads to New FCC Query
The unreleased radio study indicated that over seven years there had been a 35 percent decline in the number of radio station owners, and that 74 percent of advertising revenue in markets that were examined was controlled by two firms.
Ferree said he does "remember somebody mentioning" the radio report and would not be surprised if he had ordered work on it stopped. The agency had just issued its rules on media ownership, he said, and he didn't see the need for another report.
"I've got plenty of work here for people in this bureau to do," he recalls thinking at the time.
He said the report would have created "more heat and no light" and had the potential to "start another whole round of debates."
The spiked television and radio reports required hundreds of hours of work, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Their existence might not be known had copies not been provided to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a member of the Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC.
During confirmation hearings for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin last fall, Boxer asked about the television study. Martin said he was not aware of its existence and that he was not chairman at the time it was prepared. A week later, Boxer released the radio report.
Boxer called for an inspector general's investigation, which Martin ordered the same day. Brown, the report's co-author, says no one from the IG's office has asked him about what happened. Ferree said he hasn't been contacted either.
While Martin has been quick to point out that the reports in question were not circulated on his watch, he has still come in for some criticism.
One agency employee said that after the television study hit the news, a directive came from the chairman's office requiring researchers to focus only on work specifically called for by the agency's management.
FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said that she is "not aware of a directive, but I think we remind staff that people are expected to be working on the work assigned to them."
Meanwhile, the commission has ordered a new round of studies on media ownership. A description and a list of proposed authors was released the night before Thanksgiving.
The agency has also posted a number of draft studies and other records that were prepared before the last media ownership proceeding on its Web site. The available documents include all eight drafts of the local news study and a copy of the radio study.
While some are encouraged by Martin's apparent desire to be more transparent as the agency again reviews the rules, others are still wary.
Last August, the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law School filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for "all studies and/or proposals for studies" related to the commission's media ownership and localism rules.
Much of what was provided, according to institute director Angela Campbell, was already publicly available. "It's not really as much as it looks like," she said. "I still have concerns because of the large quantity of material they withheld."
Citing FOIA exemptions, the agency opted not to turn over 1,400 pages of internal commission records.