Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Move toward Competition, But Where is Diversity?

FCC Chairman Wheeler yesterday announced his intention to make an important step forward toward more media competition.  The really good news is that Chairman Wheeler is not proposing to permit additional consolidation, which is a significant improvement over the ill-conceived proposal of the prior Chairman, Julius Genachowski.

In addition, Wheeler is proposing to close some loopholes in the existing rules addressing jointly-run (but not jointly-owned) TV stations.  Many years ago, the Supreme Court said about jointly-run news outlets, “it is unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned … combination. The divergency of their viewpoints cannot be expected to be the same as if they were antagonistically run.” The same holds true today. When two TV stations merge, they join staff, news teams and sales teams. There are fewer journalists, and fewer places for members of the community to share stories or to get news. If one reporter isn't interested in a news story, no one is, because there is only one reporter! We see the same effects when those two TV stations are operating together using a complex financial agreement as when the joint ownership is out in the open.

 

And yet, it is still unclear what Chairman Wheeler is proposing to promote media diversity. Today, ownership diversity is devastatingly low. The inadequately collected and analyzed data released by the FCC in 2012 indicated that we have virtually no TV stations owned by people of color or women in the United States, and that number will surely be lower when the more recent data from last December is released.  TV still holds an unprecedented sway over our national conversation, political dialogue and values. Two hundred eighty-three million people (that's out of over 310 million total) in the U.S. watch an average of 146 hours of TV every month.  Without owners from all walks of life and reflecting the full diversity of our nation, our national and local dialogues suffer.

 

The last Obama FCC Chairman Genachowski kicked the can down the road and left office without addressing these issues. The new FCC Chair is pointed in the right direction, but he needs to get across the finish line.

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