Progress on Diversity Today, Hope for More Diversity TomorrowSubmitted by Cheryl Thu Dec 04 2014 16:24:40 GMT-0500 (EST)
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.