Affirmative Action may come to broadcasting, but will popular commentators be squeezed off the air by a new system of quotas or goals and timetables?
The Obama Administration is forthright on bringing ethnic diversity to broadcasting, but less than forthcoming on whether diverse viewpoints will be tolerated by the federal agency that oversees the communications industry.
On September 22, 2009 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski addressed transparency in network ownership in conjunction with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonprofit that researches public policy affecting African-Americans. His focus there, along with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, was on minority representation in media and minority access to broadband.
Commissioner Copps mirrored Genachowski and the FCC’s concern over minority and female ownership of television, saying “in a country that has more than one-third minorities, people of color own just over three percent—three percent—of full power commercial television stations.” The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) showed similar statistics—“in 2000, minorities owned 3.8 percent of the 11,865 such stations licensed in the United States”—but reported positive growth in its 2000 report, Changes, Challenges, and Charting New Courses: Minority Commercial Broadcast Ownership in the United States, saying “This year’s report shows modest progress in some areas of minority commercial broadcast ownership.”
Commissioner Copps attributed a lack of media diversity to this lack of minority ownership, saying “Is it any wonder that minorities are so often stereotyped and caricatured on the programs we see and hear?” Women, similarly, account for only 5.8% of ownership and Copps said that they, too, are stereotyped in media.
Commissioner Copps expressed concern about the current media environment, saying he would like for it to reflect diversity. He then railed against what he called “uniformity and program homogenization,” calling for the development of policies for programs in local culture and arts. The FCC already has taken steps towards identifying the lack of diversity in ownership, said Copps, adding that the new FCC Form 323 will reveal exactly the levels of ownership. On April 8th, the FCC issued a News Release regarding changes to this form, saying that Form 323’s purpose is “to identify their organizational and ownership structures and to provide information on owners’ race, ethnicity, and gender.”
Genachowski addressed a similar issue: how to make broadband available across the country, specifically to minority populations. The two problems he identified were deployment and adoption. He said he would like it if broadband were made “available in every community across the country.” However, approximately 40% of communities do not currently have access. In communities that have access, adoption rates are not complete; approximately 40% still have not chosen to take advantage of broadband access. This is especially true with the elderly, low-income, and in minority communities, he said.
Jeff Gardner, CEO of Windstream Communications—a company that offers phone and broadband services—represented private sector interests in an interview with Telephony Online last week. Gardner said, “If it was easy to throw up a tower out there and provide broadband in rural America, we would have done it by now. The economics are very challenging, and we have got networks out there that can be extended.”
Radiolink Magazine reported on September 28th what Genachowski said about female and minority ownership: “This has been a longtime concern of the agency,” and the agency needs more and better data on the subject. Commissioner Copps, referring to the new president, said that he is happy to be “fortunate enough to be in a period that is at long last hospitable to change,” reported Radiolink.