by Janet Murguía
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is trying to overhaul the nation’s media ownership rules, and he’s in a hurry. He’s pushing for a vote by Dec. 18 to end the longstanding ban on one company owning both the daily newspaper and a radio or TV station in the same town – regardless of the certain harm it will cause to the already fragile state of minority media ownership.
Martin is pushing for greater media consolidation despite numerous calls from congressional leaders and the civil rights community, including the National Council of La Raza, to deal first with the disgraceful state of this ownership before considering any rule change. He is determined to go forward, even though the latest independent study that shows the number of minority TV station owners declined by 8 percent over the past year.
According to a study by Free Press, people of color now make up barely 3 percent of all TV station owners. They own just 43 of 1,300 TV stations, even though they make up close to 35 percent of the U.S. population.
The state of ownership in the broadcast sector is even more shocking when compared to other industries. While minority ownership has advanced in other sectors since the late 1990s, it has worsened in the broadcast industry. Latinos own just 1.3 percent of all TV stations. And the number of black-owned TV stations dropped by 60 percent this past year — from 19 to eight.
Yet, as hard as it is to believe, the FCC itself has been unable even to count how many broadcast stations are owned by people of color. Researchers of a recent FCC study on the subject called the data the commission collected “extremely crude and subject to a large enough degree of measurement error to render it essentially useless for any serious analysis.”
Another recent study failed to count 69 percent of minority-owned stations and 75 percent of women-owned stations. A survey of media habits commissioned by the agency left out the demographic category of Latinos altogether.
These actions continue a historic neglect while erecting even higher barriers to keep people of color from becoming station owners. Martin ignores the issue even though a federal court admonished the FCC in 2004 for failing to deal with it the last time the agency tried to eliminate media ownership limits.
On Nov. 13, Martin announced his intention to lift the 30-year-old ban on “newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership.” He portrayed his plan as a modest proposal that would allow one company to own a daily newspaper and a TV station in just the top 20 markets, so long as the station is not one of the four top-rated channels. Hispanic and non-white ownership will be placed in greater jeopardy under the plan.
Nearly half of the stations owned by people of color are in the top 20 markets, and none are among the top four stations. Overall, 90 percent of all such stations are ranked outside the top four. This makes them targets for purchase and reduces opportunities for people of color to buy independently owned stations.
Martin released his plan despite repeated requests to address first the ownership crisis. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein’s call for an independent task force has been endorsed by congressional leaders such as Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Robert Menéndez, Rep. Hilda Solís and Rep. John Conyers as well as civil rights groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Rainbow PUSH, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and NCLR.
Bipartisan legislation pending in the Senate – the Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S. 2332) – would require, among other things, the creation of just such a task force.
Introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott, its co-sponsors include presidential candidates Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Obama.
Congress should stop Martin from moving forward with new rules until he can accurately account for how his policies will affect minority ownership. Allowing unchecked consolidation will only make a disgraceful situation even worse. Hispanic Link.
(Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy and civil rights organization, writes a monthly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org). ©2007