WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Free Press called on the Federal Communications Commission to commit to fulfilling its mandate to promote diversity in media ownership. Runaway consolidation and a history of discriminatory policymaking and enforcement have left far too few Black and Brown people in control of U.S. media outlets.
Free Press filed comments as the FCC looks to conclude its 2018 “quadrennial review” of its broadcast media-ownership limits. “[D]espite repeated Commission commitments to carry out its legal duty to promote diversity – and the repeated appellate court instructions directing the agency to study the impact its rules have on ownership diversity – there’s been very little progress in the last two decades,” Free Press stated in its filing. FCC data from 2017 indicated that people of color own and control just 6 percent of the nation’s full-power TV stations, 7 percent of commercial FM radio stations and 12 percent of commercial AM radio stations, figures that Free Press calls “shameful.”
The FCC is wrapping up the 2018 proceeding, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, but congressional mandate dictates that the agency must also soon initiate its quadrennial review for 2022.
Looking forward, Free Press recommends that the agency: (1) close loopholes that allow broadcasters to evade ownership limits while in theory complying with those limits on paper; (2) collect data and conduct studies on how broadcast media consolidation affects broadcast-ownership opportunities for people of color and women; and, (3) in a separate docket, conduct a racial-equity impact assessment that examines the FCC’s history of anti-Black policies and other discriminatory actions. This assessment must identify reparative actions to address the structural and systemic failures of our current media system.
Free Press Co-CEO Jessica González made the following statement:
“Free Press has repeatedly urged the FCC to fix its many policies that have caused major structural inequities in U.S. media. People of color still depend disproportionately on broadcast media for critical local news and information, but FCC policies have failed to ensure that licensees are actually serving these communities’ news and information needs.
“Rather, the agency has allowed runaway consolidation to diminish viewpoint diversity and entrench barriers for people of color and women to enter the broadcast industry. Instead of regulating that industry as it should, the Commission has long followed the lead of the white-controlled broadcast lobby at the expense of everyone else. The FCC must acknowledge its historical failure on media diversity and reverse this discriminatory policymaking trend.
“Free Press activists have called on the FCC to immediately initiate a more holistic proceeding to address and redress the harm the agency’s policies and programs have caused Black and Brown communities. As it wraps this 2018 review and also initiates its 2022 quadrennial review, the FCC must deeply examine in every docket how its policies impact broadcast-ownership opportunities for people of color and women. The agency must also tighten broadcast-ownership limits and close loopholes that have allowed broadcasters to evade the rules.
“If the pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that broadcasters must play an essential role in keeping their communities safe and informed. We need broadcasters to provide critical and timely information during increasingly frequent climate disasters, too — including the wildfires raging across the West, and the floods and tornadoes throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States.
“The FCC must do everything it can to ensure that everyone in the United States has access to the quality local news and information they need to stay safe. The agency also must acknowledge its own role in advancing a discriminatory media system and lay the groundwork for repair.”