September 28, 2007

Commentary:

Minority Media Ownership Ensuring a Diversity of Voices in the Media Marketplace

By Senator Robert Menendez

On September 20, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a hearing on new rules that may impact media ownership, especially female and minority media ownership. Unfortunately, the lack of diversity in our nation’s radio and television media ownership is a far cry from the reality in which we live.

According to recent studies by the nonprofit group Free Press even though people of color make up 35 percent of the U.S. population they own just 8 percent of all local radio stations and 3 percent of all local TV stations.

In fact, Latinos own just 2.9 percent of all US commercial broadcast radio stations, but they comprise nearly 15 percent of the US population and are the nation’s largest ethnic group. Statistics are equally as dismal for African-Americans, who own only 3.4 percent of commercial broadcast radio stations, but account for 13 percent of our population. Similarly, while women make up more than 50 percent of the population, they own just 5 percent of commercial broadcast television and 6 percent of all commercial broadcast radio stations.

Democrats strongly believe that diversity in media ownership is in the best interest of our nation’s democracy because it leads to a diversity of voices in our programming. That is why Democrats pledge to work to ensure women and minorities are able to access a fair share of the broadcast market.

Minority Media Ownership Lags Behind Other Economic Sectors: Minority and women ownership of radio and television station is very low compared to the levels of minority ownership seen in other commercial industry sectors.

Today, women own nearly 30 percent and racial and ethnic minorities own 18 percent of all non-farm businesses. In sectors such as transportation and health care, racial and ethnic minorities own businesses at similar levels to their proportion of the general population.

However, the proportion of minorities and women in the overall population is more than 4 times as much as the proportion of minority and women ownership in commercial radio broadcast. With broadcast television, those numbers increase to more than 6 times as much.

Obstacles to Media Ownership Have Become More Onerous: Findings from a 2000 FCC study demonstrated that there were deficiencies in access to capital markets among small, minority, and women-owned businesses in broadcast, which the FCC found to be an obstacle to minority ownership.

Moreover, Free Press has consistently found that the more concentrated a broadcast market, the less chance a minority owner has of breaking into the market. This has led to an 11.7 percent decline in minority radio broadcast licensees since the 1990s. Free Press has also found that new media ownership rules being floated by the FCC will further concentrate local markets and create even more barriers for women and minorities underrepre-sented in the ownership of broadcast media.

The FCC Has Not Done Enough to Promote Minority Ownership: As a public trustee of the broadcast and wireless spectrum, it is the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to advocate on behalf of minority and women in the radio and television broadcast industry – not only through its policies, but by working to remedy any obstacles putting those groups at an unfair disadvantage.

Unfortunately, the FCC has not lived up to its responsibilities in recent years and the overall issue of minority media ownership has been neglected at the agency. While the FCC has solicited recommendations to increase minority broadcast ownership, the commission has yet to properly examine those proposals prior to moving ahead with broader media ownership rules which will have a profound and lasting impact on media ownership for years to come.

Minority and female media ownership is in a crisis today. Democrats believe it is critical to have a diversity of voices in our nation’s programming – and that means ensuring minorities and women have the ability to access ownership of our media markets. That is why Democrats pledge to keep a close watch over this issue.

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