With an already anemic representation of women and people of color in media ownership, civil rights organizations are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to delay its decision to lift media ownership limits.
In a Nov. 28 teleconference involving a mix of affected groups, Free Press president Craig Aaron said his organization would pursue legal action against the FCC if its commissioners approve the draft order that would repeal the ban on media consolidation without first examining how it would impact diversity.
The non-white stake in TV station ownership is 3.6 percent while women owners account for 7 percent, representation Aaron called a "travesty." He urged, "The study must come first – not after the rules have already been changed." Free Press and others have sued the FCC in the past for trying to enact similar changes.
The draft order presented by the FCC and its chairman Julius Genachowski would do away with the newspaper-radio cross-ownership ban altogether and allow television-newspaper cross-ownership in the top 20 markets.
Free Press and civil rights activists fear that consolidating markets will shrink even further the representation of Latinos, blacks and other people of color, arguing the change will raise the barriers to entry and makes it difficult for new owners to get in the market.
"When too few people own too much media, it is unhealthy," Rev. Jesse Jackson said on the teleconference call.
Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy at Newspaper Association of America, said his organization is in favor of repealing the ban that has been in place since 1975 because it would "track investments from a plethora of potential investors that can provide the resources to sustain local journalism."
"It was put into place when there were only three networks and when newspapers were a major voice in their community. Now you have a variety of outlets, all competing voices and fighting for advertising.
The FCC has not recalibrated this rule to reflect the changes in the media market place."
Boyle took issue with the premise held by some civil rights organizations, saying their fears and the reality of the changing media landscape are two separate matters.
"During the ban, there was nothing stopping a minority-owned business or investor from buying a newspaper. I take issue with the premise that somehow lifting the ban will keep minorities from buying a local newspaper. Civic-minded leaders can invest if they want their voices heard," Boyle said.
Mandated by Congress, the FCC is expected to review the ban as part of its quadrennial review, which is two years behind schedule.
An FCC official told Hispanic Link that the commission's draft media ownership order includes "a comprehensive analysis of viewpoint diversity based on an extensive record developed over the last three years, including six public hearings held across the country; two rounds of public comment, and 11 economic studies that were competitively bid, subject to peer review, and publicly released."
Even still, Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, countered that the FCC hasn't conducted the proper studies showing how Hispanics and people of color would be affected.
"We are asking the FCC to hold off on making the decision on going forward and consolidating newspapers and other media," he said. "You haven't explored the ramifications of what is going to be if people of color don't have a voice."