Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

More Reform on Prison Phone Rates!

UCC OC Inc., Center for Media Justice and MAGNet teamed up with religious organizations, civil rights groups, labor and many others to submit a letter today supporting further reforms to end predatory prison phone rates.  The letter supported the FCC's proposal to end "kick-back" payments, known as commissions from phone companies to prisons, jails and detention centers.  The letter also urged the FCC to cap local rates and to block unfair fees, to build on the FCC's historic decision to cap long-distance rates in 2014.  We also urged the FCC to take rapid action to protect people with disabilities, and to investigate unscrupulous rates for email and video visitation.  Learn more about prison phone rates on our web page. 

If you have a personal story about prison phone rates, share it with the FCC on this website created by the Prison Phone Justice Campaign.  More information about the new FCC proceeding is available in the flyer prepared by the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net).

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Progress on Diversity Today, Hope for More Diversity Tomorrow

Today the FCC took action which might be a modest harbinger of better news on this front in the future.  The FCC approved a number of transactions which will add new broadcast owners of color and women.  Setting aside the details of each transaction, it is important to note, as Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn did today, that this welcome increase in African American, Asian American and women owners comes as a direct result of the FCC's decision to start enforcing the ownership rules already on the books.  Last spring the FCC recognized that so-called "sidecar" or Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) between stations take advantage of a legal loopholes to achieve concentration in excess of ownership limits. 


This is a great example showing how the FCC's media ownership rules are an important way that the FCC can ensure we have a diverse media.  The stations transfers approved today took place because, once the loophole was closed, the existing owners were not permitted to keep stations in violation of the FCC's rules.  If the FCC's rules had been enforced as they should have been for the last 15 years, perhaps our media ownership numbers would not be as dismal as they are now.


The FCC can repeat this success in its currently pending 2014 Quadrennial Review of ownership rules, but only if it takes action now.  While the FCC closed the loophole of JSAs (which stations use to jointly sell advertising), many other similar ownership arrangements continue under the moniker of "SSAs" or Shared Services Agreements.  Not only are these agreements similar to JSAs in their ability to evade compliance with the FCC's ownership rules, but they strike at the heart of the FCC's core goals because they enable televisions stations to consolidate news operations.   In several important markets in our country--for example in Honolulu--viewers see the same newscast on three separate TV stations.  This not only limits multiple newscasts to one viewpoint, but eliminates jobs for reporters.  These agreements are also problematic because they create "financial dependency," as Wheeler and Clyburn put it, on the part of putative owners, depriving those dependent owners of capital and wealth.


SSAs are clothed in secrecy, because unlike JSAs, broadcasters are not required to disclose their terms to either the FCC or the public.  The FCC missed an important opportunity last spring when it could have required these agreements to come under scrutiny.  If the FCC wants to see more deals like the ones it approved today, it needs to require SSA disclosure in the first half of 2015--so there is enough time to analyze these agreements and adopt rules eliminating the remaining loopholes as part of the pending review.   


Evan as national events confirm once again, that, yes, race does matter in how we perceive so many important aspects of daily life and public policy, we see a glimmer of hope that the people with insight into the needs of communities who have so long been closed out of the mass media might have a chance to shape local news in some places in the years to come.

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Civil Rights, Media Justice, and Labor Groups Applaud the FCC for Further Action on Unfair Prison Phone Rates

Contact Info:
Stephanie Vanegas, 415-495-4200 ext.101 |

Washington D.C. – In response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voting to approve a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to comprehensively reform interstate and intrastate inmate calling services for prisons and detention facilities, civil rights, media justice, and labor groups released the following statement:

“The FCC’s plan to address the cost of local telephone calls to prison, jails and immigration detention facilities is another step toward reducing the unfair financial burden on incarcerated people and their families. We applaud Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn’s leadership to ensure that inmates can maintain contact withparents and grandparents, children, spouses, siblings, clergy and friends.

Preserving the most reliable way for inmates to keep relationships that matter is one of the best ways to ensure our communities are safer and to decrease re-offenses and reentry into the criminal justice system.

By taking further action, the FCC can finish the job and eliminate predatory phone rates entirely. The agency has an opportunity to increase transparency in an industry that profits from outrageous fees at the expense of families and address the terrible situation facing inmates with disabilities who often cannot communicate with the outside world.

The civil rights, media justice, and labor community stands behind Wheeler and Clyburn because all families deserve the right to stay connected at reasonable and fair rates, as mandated by the Communications Act.  We look forward to rapid completion of this next phase of the FCC’s work."

American Friends Service Committee
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
Center for Media Justice
Common Cause
Communications Workers of America
Free Press
Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD)
Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice of UCIMC
Media Alliance
Media Literacy Project
Open Technology Institute, New America
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts
Public Knowledge
National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low income clients
National Hispanic Media Coalition
New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

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Categories: prison phone  |  press release

2014 Parker Lecture Press Release

FCC Chairman Wheeler Highlights Need for Greater Broadband Access and Diversity in Media Ownership

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday pledged to improve the rates of media ownership by women and persons of color during his tenure as chairman, and said he was treating the commission's open Internet rules as "the most important decision of my term."

Wheeler's remarks came as he delivered the 32nd Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture at the Newseum in Washington.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

The event, sponsored by the United Church of Christ's Office of Communication, Inc., was held in partnership with the Newseum Institute this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Parker's ground-breaking petition to the FCC. The petition, filed at the height of the civil rights movement, challenged the television license of WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi, for its failure to cover its African-American viewers. The petition ultimately led the FCC to strip the station owners of their license, and established the right of individual citizens to petition the agency.

"Everett Parker fought for the free flow of information without economic obstruction," Wheeler said. ".…The history of America is the history of unpopular ideas that came to be recognized as essential truths – from the independence of colonies, to the abolition of slavery, to the simple notion that people should not be judged on the basis of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. This is why free expression is a value that stands at the center of our work to promote an open Internet."

The chairman observed that the Internet also represents "an unprecedented expansion of economic opportunity. Networks have always been the backbone of economic expansion, but what is new this time is that an open Internet allows innovative economic activity to reach scope and scale at an unprecedented rate. "

Wheeler noted that ensuring universal access to the Internet for all "will not be an easy task." But, he added, "The costs of digital exclusion are significant for the non-connected and for our nation. Broadband is the gateway that facilitates, among other things, online learning, telework, remote health care monitoring, social networking, news and entertainment programming and economic opportunities. Like access to broadcasting in the 1960's, access to the broadband Internet is critical to full and fair participation in our society and our economy." Tom Wheeler remarks as prepared for delivery.

Makani Themba & Catherine J.K. Sandoval
Makani Themba & Catherine J.K. Sandoval

At the event, Makani Themba, executive director of The Praxis Project, received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of her many years of leadership and support for promoting the public interest in telecommunications and the media.

Themba described Rev. Parker as one of her heroes, asserting, “there can be no justice when people are silent.” Themba recited the names of African-Americans whose deaths had made headlines--in the civil right era and in recent months, then added, "There are so many names we don't even know. And they number into the millions, over centuries, as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap. Continuing the legacy of Rev. Parker is to break the complicity of media--especially news media--with our dehumanization. Of course, media bias does not pull the trigger, but it does help paint a target on our backs." Makani Themba remarks as prepared for delivery.

California Public Utilities Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval received the Donald H. McGannon Award for her contributions in advancing the roles of women and persons of color in the media. Sandoval directed the FCC's Office of Communications Business Opportunities in the late 1990s before becoming the first Latino member of the CPUC.

Sandoval recalled that as a 6-year-old living in a trailer park in Los Angeles, television "ignited my dreams to be a lawyer," bringing images of leaders such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall into her home. In her remarks, Sandoval described how bringing telephone service to previously unserved parts of the Yurok tribe's reservation in California—"where the nearest cell phone service is 45 minutes away"—had enabled residents to alert emergency personnel to a wildfire outbreak and brought news to a blind member of the tribe.

The event was livestreamed by the Newseum Institute. An archived video will be available at

The Parker Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the founder of OC, Inc., and his pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The event is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. More information is available at

This year's lecture was held in conjunction with the Newseum's three-year exhibit "Civil Rights at 50," chronicling major developments in the civil rights movement from 1963 to 1965 through news media reports.

The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with more than 1 million members and nearly 5,200 local congregations nationwide, recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society as a whole. For this reason, the UCC's OC, Inc. has worked since its founding in 1959 to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.

The Newseum Institute provides a forum for educational programs and thought-leadership initiatives, as well as educational materials, addressing the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. The Newseum's 250,000-square-foot museum in downtown Washington, D.C., offers visitors a state-of-the-art experience that blends news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.


United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.
Cheryl A. Leanza,
media contact

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