FCC decision to expand media ownership will curb dissent (FCN, 06-22-2003)

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Over the last year Black TV station ownership dropped by 60 percent with the total number falling from 19 to eight and making Black ownership almost non-existent, according to a recent report.

The dwindling numbers of Black-owned broadcast outlets was also discussed during a Dec. 5 congressional hearing about media consolidation and how having fewer owners control more stations contributes to the problem.


“Minority television ownership is in such a precarious state that the loss of a single minority-owned company results in a disastrous decline,” said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and lead author of “Out of the Picture 2007,” an updated analysis of the impact of consolidation on minority and female television station ownership.

“Permitting any more consolidation will only further diminish the number of minority-owned stations,” he warned.

Much of the decline can be attributed to the bankruptcy and subsequent change in ownership of a single company–Granite Broadcasting, formerly the country’s largest minority-owned broadcast television company.

While many are alarmed at the drastic decline the Federal Communications Commission is practically mute on the topic, they complain.Critics charge Chairman Kevin Martin with pushing new rules that allow proposal to eliminate the longstanding “newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership” ban. That ban prohibits ownership of a television station and major newspaper by the same company in particular instances.

If Mr. Martin removed the prohibition in the top 20 markets and only let newspapers combine with broadcast stations outside of the four top-rated channels, minority ownership would suffer serious negative consequences, said Free Press. Nearly half of the stations currently owned by people of color are in the top 20 markets, and none of these are among the top four stations, it noted.

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing Dec. 5 on Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission-Media Ownership to address these issues.

James L. Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) testified.

“Throughout our existence, NABOB has been involved in Congress’s efforts to determine the amount and type of regulation to impose upon the ownership of radio and television stations.NABOB actively opposed the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, because we knew that it would result in massive industry consolidation of ownership and have a negative effect on the ability of minorities to acquire broadcast stations. Now, 11 years later, our fears have been realized, and the American public is not well served as a result,” he said.

“Since enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the number of African American-owned companies holding broadcast station licenses has fallen by 40 percent,” said Mr. Winston. “However, many of the stations that were sold were the only stations serving African American audiences in their communities and those communities have been left without a voice.”

Nearly 90 percent of minority-owned TV stations are not ranked among the top four stations in their respective markets. Those stations could be targeted for purchase if the ban on consolidation is lifted.

Increased consolidation only decreases opportunities for people of color to enter the market and purchase stations of their own, advocates maintain.

“The best, most effective way to boost minority and female ownership is by rolling back consolidation,” said Mr. Turner. “Piecemeal policies will have limited impact on the level of minority ownership in the face of unchecked media concentration.”

The major problem with cross ownership is that one company could control what communities view on TV, what they read in local newspapers and what they hear on radio thus creating a monopoly of thought, advocates warn.

“The current FCC chairman seems bent on pursuing a decidedly anti-diversity agenda that I hope this committee will stop.Chairman Martin insists on a big reward for the media companies by relaxing cross-ownership rules.All the available data show that this drastically curtails diversity in local markets,”testified Dr. E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women, at the hearing.

“Clear Channel alone owns some 1,200 radio stations reaching 110 million listeners, and 42 TV stations in 27 markets.Mega-conglomerates like General Electric control NBC Universal and Universal Studios as well as 38 local broadcast stations; News Corp.’s holdings range from the Fox family of broadcast and cable channels to major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post to major film production companies and publisher Harper Collins.These are, of course, but a small sampling, but a representative one nonetheless,” she said.

Dr. Williams added, “As a result, the minority-owned media company has become an endangered species: despite making up 34 percent of the U.S. population, racial and ethnic minorities own only 7.7 percent of radio stations and just over three percent–of television stations.”

“Under Chairman Martin, the situation has worsened: last year alone, minority ownership among TV stations dropped 8.5 percent; the number of Black-owned stations fell 80 percent.Yet the chairman continues to roll back cross-ownership rules,” she said.