ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: The Importance of Diversity in Media Ownership

Courtesy of Howard Stirk Media
Courtesy of Howard Stirk Media

As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the necessity for that diversity to be reflected in business becomes all the more important.

As one of only three African-American-owned TV station licensees in the country, I recently wrote the FCC voicing strong support for the advancement of minority ownership and diversity. I saw the pending Tribune-Sinclair merger as presenting a historic opportunity for the FCC and Justice Department to advance minority ownership within the context of the divestiture requirements the government would require for regulatory approval.

The government generally, and the FCC specifically, has acknowledged the need to enhance minority ownership for 40 years. Congress also has recognized the poor state of minority ownership. The 1996 Telecommunications Act contains language aimed at increasing female and minority ownership of broadcast licenses (and other important communications mediums), and requires the FCC to limit and remove “market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses” and to do so by “favoring diversity of media voices.”

Congress and the public both have an obligation to help the Department of justice understand the importance of minority ownership in broadcast television in a diversifying landscape. Diversity of thought, culture, and ideas should be equally represented. Giving more minorities access and opportunity to ownership will foster the right environment to do just that.

So imagine my deep concern when I heard the Justice Department was wavering in its decision to allow station divestitures to my African-American-owned companies, where the transaction included joint sales agreements (JSA), shared service agreements (SSA), and loan guarantee agreements. Such arrangements were routine for the FCC until it hastily implemented television Joint Sales Agreement attribution rules in 2014, under the previous administration’s chairman, Tom Wheeler. Those rules, however, were reversed and eliminated on Nov. 20, 2017. The Department of Justice should respect that decision. For example, broadcast ownership has permitted Howard Stirk Holdings to create an incubator for African-American journalism students by providing tuition scholarships, while providing field experience outside of the classroom. If we were not broadcast owners, I am sure none of that would have been possible.

It also gives us the opportunity to cover the stories that others are not covering, for whatever reason. We tell the stories of everyday people that are often overlooked. As part of our public interest obligation, we vow to continue doing this with our live town halls across our regional affiliates where we discuss family, community and other critical cultural issues. Our town halls provide a unique platform for the long form discussion of key issues that are important to many American communities — both Black and White. We have covered in depth the water crisis in Flint, the Charleston church terrorist attack, the Las Vegas terrorist attack, the Manchester terrorist attack live from Europe, the moral challenges facing America, and many other topical issues. We need more of these forums and not less. This is critically important to African-American communities, especially as media voices they identify with are diminishing daily.


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