The following is an email I received through my graduate school listserv. The author is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
For years, many of us have looked for opportunities to plug our research on media, communications and culture into debates over policy and reform. Most recently, we met in May at the National Conference for Media Reform, generating a great deal of energy around a group we called the “Academic Brain Trust” for media reform research. We planned to launch the Brain Trust work to coincide with the start of the academic year in September, and intended to convene a variety of working groups on media issues. But circumstances now require us to quickly create the first of these working groups on media ownership. It is now open to join online at http://www.academicbraintrust.org/ownership.php.
This summer, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has begun the proceeding to rewrite the regulations governing the public interest limits on broadcast ownership. Specifically, he is taking up the rules that were remanded to the agency by the federal Courts for failing to pass evidentiary muster under the direction of his predecessor, Michael Powell. These include the rules prohibiting the cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market, and the limits on the number of broadcast stations one company may own in a market. This is a big deal for media firms like Clear Channel, Gannett, Tribune Company and the Sinclair Broadcast Group that know how incredibly profitable it is to enjoy semi-monopoly power. It is heaven for them and their shareholders, but of dubious value for the citizenry. This is an extraordinary opportunity. Rarely do moments like this come along when academic research can play the decisive role in a policy decision. What is needed does not require a huge amount of labor or original research. In large part, what we need is a synthesis of existing research and the informed conclusions of experts who have studied these issues. Federal regulators, inundated with special-interest industry research, are simply not exposed to the straightforward scholarship that we can provide.
This voluminous industry research, if unchallenged, gives the appearance of being honest scholarship that reflects widely held views in the academy. As soon as genuine critical scholarship is provided to the public record, however, special interest research pales in comparison. In fact, the federal Court effectively acknowledged this crucial point when it threw out the FCC’s attempted ownership rules changes in 2004. The FCC will soon open the proceeding for public comment. We fully expect Mr. Martin to attempt to eliminate ownership regulations, opening the door for further media consolidation. However, he faces a significant hurdle: the Court’s high expectations for justification.
We believe that a body of quality research concerning a variety of questions at issue in this proceeding will be the difference between blocking further media consolidation and being trampled by it. Clearly, we are setting a research agenda aimed at offering arguments and evidence aimed at upholding public interest limits on media ownership. We are looking for honest scholarship, not a doctoring of the record, and we feel that an analysis of the facts is sufficient to prove our case. We do not need original research, though that is certainly welcome. In many cases, merely synthesizing existing work can be extremely helpful and convincing. And if, by chance, you believe the evidence indicates that there is no public interest in media ownership rules, feel free to contribute your research under your own auspices, or that of a pro-industry organization. Academic researchers and their graduate students have a critical role to play. But there is little time to lose. Within a dozen weeks, we must be prepared to submit into the record the research we have generated. Policy analysts in Washington have analyzed the record and produced a helpful list of research needs.
They vary across a wide range of topics and methodologies, including:1-Legal Analysis2-Market Structure Analysis3-Literature reviews4-Studies of media diversity, localism, and concentration5-Case studies6-Rebutals of pre-existing research in the recordPlease take a look at the full, annotated list of research needs in the PDF at http://www.academicbraintrust.org/Ownership_Research_List.pdf .Our window of opportunity is narrow, but our chances are very good for making a difference in a very important policy decision. On the Brain Trust webpage, www.academicbraintrust.org, you can sign up to join the working group. I look forward to working with you. Thank you in advance for your time, energy and commitment. For media scholars this is our moment in the sun.
Or, better yet, it is our moment of truth.
Robert W. McChesney