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UCC Media Justice Update

Supreme Court rules in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project

The Supreme Court ruled on very narrow grounds this morning in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project that the Trump Federal Communications Commission decision on media ownership permissibly allowed broadcast consolidation at the expense of ownership diversity by women and people of color. The Court did not adopt the broadcast industry's arguments that would have bound the agency to an improper reading of the Communications Act or the FCC's own precedent.

Cheryl A. Leanza, co-counsel in the case and the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry's policy advisor said the following:

Although the ruling is disappointing, the Court's decision was very narrow, finding only that the FCC's decision was 'within the zone of reasonableness' because the FCC possessed a sparse record. But the sparse record is the FCC's own fault. Any analysis of this question must rely on the FCC's data and yet the FCC has long permitted broadcast licensees to avoid filing their ownership data with impunity and has never taken steps to remedy the deficiencies.

The good news is the Biden FCC, once it gains a working majority, can quickly get to work building a solid record to promote the public interest standard and media ownership diversity.

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Going to the Supreme Court for Media Justice

As part of its 60-year-old mission in pursuit of media justice, the UCC's media justice ministry, OC Inc., filed in the Supreme Court today. The case came to the Supreme Court when the Trump Administration and the broadcast industry appealed a UCC victory in federal court last year that blocked the FCC's effort to permit more local television mergers and other media combinations in local communities.  

 

In last year's victory, in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, the federal appellate court in Philadelphia, ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could not permit additional consolidation when it ignored facts in the record showing consolidation would harm ownership rates by women and people of color. The FCC has long decried low ownership diversity numbers but ignored facts in the record showing consolidation harms diversity by putting more television and radio stations into the hands of fewer and fewer owners.

 

As Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor and lead litigator in the case in Philadelphia explained last year, "the court found the FCC treated its obligation as less-important than high school math homework and got caught turning in work that, in the court's words, 'would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.'"

 

The state of ownership diversity is abysmal. Although the FCC's data is flawed and not completely reliable, it gives the best indication we currently have regarding current numbers. In full power television, racial minorities combined own 26 stations out of 1,376 licensed stations, Hispanics own 58 stations, and women own 73. In FM radio, racial minorities own 159 of 6,647 radio stations, Hispanics own 219, and women own 390. In all cases, the share owned by women and people of color is in the single digits, and in the case of most individual categories, such as Asian Americans, control is less than 1 percent. And the FCC data is incomplete, for example in FM radio 19 percent of stations did not report any data at all.

 

The UCC's history in court against the FCC goes back to the earliest days of the denomination when Rev. Everett C. Parker began his work as the original director of communications and founded OC Inc. He worked with local residents and church members to monitor and hold accountable television stations in the South by monitoring their content and filing challenges to TV station license renewals at the FCC. In those early days, the UCC established the right of audience members—as opposed to competing stations—to file challenges at the FCC when a broadcaster did not serve its local community.

 

The current case, which is a collaboration among the UCC and other public interest organizations including the Prometheus Radio Project, will determine the rules of the road for future FCC proceedings considering media ownership rules. The current debate has been on-going for 20 years, ever since Congress required the FCC to review its broadcast ownership rules on a regular basis. Each of those proceedings has come before the court in Philadelphia and the FCC has repeatedly failed to comply with its obligations, leading to four cases known as Prometheus I, II, III and IV.

 

"This case is about when a federal court should carefully scrutinize an agency and when it should grant the agency more deference," said Ms. Leanza, "in this case, the appellate court reviewed the FCC's work and found it failed the bare minimum for a federal agency. The lower court should clearly be upheld."

 

Oral argument is scheduled for January 19, 2021 via teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision will occur before the end of the Supreme Court's term next June.

Lead counsel on the brief are Ruthanne M. Deutsch and Hyland Hunt of DeutschHunt PLLC. Also on the brief are Cheryl A. Leanza, who advises OC Inc. directly and serves as counsel to OC Inc. and several of the other parties through Best Best & Krieger, LLP and Andrew Jay Schwartzman.

For more background on this case, read our previous blog posts:

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Categories: media concentration

Structure of and Access to Technology is the Key to Justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (OCTOBER 15, 2020)

 

Today's 38th Annual Parker Lecture and Awards Ceremony highlighted the importance of communications policy in ensuring justice for all people. 

 
Karen Peltz Strauss with the Parker Award plaque
Karen Peltz Strauss

Karen Peltz Strauss was honored for four decades of work in support of access to media and communications for people with disabilities. In her acceptance speech, Strauss explained that it took years of work and many laws and policies for people with disabilities to gain access to television. Strauss emphasized the broad importance of disability access beyond the disability community, noting for example, that the features which aid people with disabilities also often ensure aging adults—who sometimes face declining vision, hearing and cognition—are not left behind. "This award acknowledges that these on-going struggles for disability justice are part and parcel of civil rights so important to Dr. Parker," she said.

 

Valarie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project and author of the newly-released book See No Stranger, also spoke to the importance of the Internet in achieving social justice, describing how, even though today the Internet is used to spread hate, it also powered the public response in support of the Black Lives Matter movement this year. Praising the work of media justice advocates who have fought for net neutrality and universal access, she challenged the audience to continue the work.

 
Valarie Kaur with Parker Lecture plaque
Valarie Kaur

Kaur told the story of her own grandfather, who arrived as an immigrant in 1913 the same year Dr. Parker was born. Kaur compared the work of Dr. Parker to the work of media justice advocates today, "Everett Parker envisioned a world where people of color like my grandfather had the ability to organize, to tell our own stories, to write our own destinies. Everett Parker fought to ensure that all people could speak and be heard on the most important mass media of his time: broadcast television. Today, we are fighting to ensure that all people can speak and be heard on the most important media of our time: the Internet." Kaur laid out three policy objectives that will ensure the work for social justice will continue: changing the terms of service by social media companies, closing the digital divide, and reestablishing net neutrality. In closing, she exhorted the group assembled on Facebook Live to remember the generations of people who will come after us, "if we show up now and we do the brave thing now, they will inherit a world, and an internet, where at last we see no stranger."

 

Also participating in today's ceremony were the Rev. Lawrence Richardson and Rev. Hyo-Jung Kim of the UCC OC Inc.'s board of directors, Rachel Chapman of the national denomination's board of directors and Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, one of the United Church of Christ's three elected officers leading the church. The event closed with an example of how the denomination's churches are thriving online with a remote, digital version of The Welcome Table by the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ's in-house band.

 
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OC Inc. created the Parker Lecture in 1983 to recognize its founder’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting. This year's event took place entirely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The complete lecture is available on the UCC Media Justice Facebook page now, and excerpts and highlights will be available shortly. The event is also a fundraiser, and donations can be made at www.uccmediajustice.org.

 

The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant denomination comprised of nearly 900,000 members and 5,000 congregations nationwide. Headquartered in Cleveland, the UCC is a church of many firsts, including the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man and the first predominantly white denomination to ordain an African American. The UCC and its members are tireless advocates for such social issues as immigration reform, racial equality, LGBT rights, marriage equality, environmental protection and economic justice.

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Categories: ParkerLecture

Supreme Court grants Certiorari in FCC v. Prometheus

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project this morning, October 2, 2020.

Cheryl A. Leanza, counsel for Prometheus Radio Project, et al., including the United Church of Christ, OC Inc., issued the following statement:

 

We're confident that on the merits, the Supreme Court will conclude that the Third Circuit properly turned back the Federal Communications Commission's last quadrennial review decision. The FCC blundered on the most basic level--as the Third Circuit found--using a numerical analysis that would fail statistics 101. The FCC continues to hold media ownership diversity as a key priority and yet repeatedly takes action that undermines that goal. The Third Circuit's analysis was fully in accord with settled law.

 

Further, I want to extend our gratitude to Best Best & Krieger, LLP which leant pro bono and professional support in the litigation before the Third Circuit;  Andrew Jay Schwartzman and Angela Campbell, co-counsel; Professor Brian Wolfman of Georgetown University Law Center for his advice; and Ruthanne M. Deutsch and Hyland Hunt of DeutschHunt  PLLC, of who will be counsel of record before the Court.

More background on this case; Prometheus, et al.'s brief in opposition.

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Just Rates for Incarcerated Communications

Today a group of almost 80 organizations wrote to Senators McConnell, Schumer, Wicker and Cantwell to request that the Senate include the COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice provisions, H.R. 6800, §§130701-03, in the next COVID-19 package enacted into law. Those provisions would: 1) immediately reduce rates for voice calls, capping the cost of all calls at $0.04 per minute for prepaid calls and $0.05 per minute for collect calls, 2) end site commission payments between phone companies and correctional agencies; and 3) clearly establish the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intrastate communications as well as fees of all kinds.

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In a time when our country is focused on the importance of affordable communication during a pandemic, the value of Black Lives, and the systemic flaws in our criminal justice system, it just makes sense for Congress to ensure that no one can be charged predatory rates to talk to their loved ones in prison, jail or detention. The Christian tradition teaches us that incarcerated people are worthy of dignity and respect in every way--whether it is the right to fair treatment inside, support reintegrating into society or the ability to speak to a child without sacrificing economic security. The time for Congress to act is now."

The letter and petitions with a total of 75,000 signatures were discussed at a press conference on August 11, 2020. A recording of the press conference is available here.

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Categories: prison phone



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