- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Federal Communications Commission did not suppress data on media consolidation at the direction of senior officials, as several lawmakers suggested, according to a yearlong investigation by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The investigation stems from two draft reports that were not made public by the commission: a 2004 study about localism in television news and a 2003 study about the state of the radio industry.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, called for an investigation after she obtained the reports last September, asking Republican Chairman Kevin J. Martin “whether it was then or is now the practice of the FCC to suppress facts that are contrary to a desired outcome.”

Michael K. Powell, the then-Republican chairman, supported the relaxation of caps on media ownership and created a task force to look at localism. The localism draft report concluded that locally owned stations produce more local news, and the radio report confirmed continued media consolidation.

The inspector general’s report, released yesterday, cited “a lack of any corroborating evidence” to support claims that commission officials ordered the research suppressed or destroyed.

Carla Conover, deputy assistant inspector general for investigations at the FCC, led the inquiry, which covered more than 150,000 pages of documents and one terabyte of computer data.

Thirty-five persons were interviewed, but notably, Adam Candeub, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law — the former FCC staff attorney who first accused the commission of suppressing the research — and one of the report authors refused to be interviewed. The inspector general is unable to compel nongovernment employees to submit testimony.

Miss Conover’s report dismissed the claim that the research was destroyed, noting that it was immediately furnished upon request. There was no written or oral evidence that anyone in senior management disliked the results of the 2004 localism study, the inspector general concluded, noting that there were methodological problems cited within the study that rendered it unfit to release.

As for the 2003 radio draft, the inspector general said evidence is “sometimes contradictory, often ambiguous and generally rests on recollections far after the events in question,” and thus is not strong enough to prove wrongdoing.

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