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When media companies consolidate in the hands of fewer and fewer owners, the diversity of viewpoints, cultures and voices to which we're exposed can dramatically decrease. 

Ethnic minorities make up about one-third of America's population but own fewer than 4% of America's broadcast licenses.  Fewer minority media owners engenders fewer newspaper stories, television shows, and radio programs that educate, entertain and challenge all Americans with the concerns, culture and knowledge of people of color.  

Minority Owners Face Challenges

Minority media owners face similar challenges as do other small or independent programmers, and producers, but the challenges are exacerbated by the persistent effects of institutional discrimination.   Obstacles which have a disproportionate impact on minority media owners include:

  • Lack of funding:  A key challenge facing minority media owners is a lack of access to sufficient funds to make ownership opportunities possible.  James, Winston, Executive Director of the national Association of Black-owned Broadcasters (NABOB), discussed this in a RadioInk article. This is also the purpose of the Minority Media Telecommunications Councilís (MMTC) annual Access to Capital Conference, which aims to bring together funders and minority entrepreneurs. 
  • Advertising:  In its 2001 report, the Minority Telecommunications Development Program (MTDP), part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Department of Commerce, found that minorities are often cut off from a critical source of media funding: advertising dollars. Evidence suggests that at least one major reason for this is the role that misinformation and discriminatory practices impact the value of minority advertising.  Reed Bunzel, editor-in-chief of RadioInk, explained it this way: "Another lingering problem, despite concerted efforts to change it, is the ongoing problem of 'no-Urban' dictates, as when advertising agencies communicate to nation rep firms that they don't want to place their advertising on Urban-formatted (i.e., African-American) radio stations."
  • Media concentration: Consolidation has a particularly onerous impact on minority owners Ė 61% of whom are single-station operators Ė because investors want to put their money into large group owners. Because it is nearly impossible for small players to compete with large companies, the cases where concentration has benefited a minority owners, as in the case of RadioOne, are rare.  Annette Walker discusses this in an article summarizing the work of scholar Kofi Ofori.  

The impact of media concentration on minority media owners plays out even in cable, where the industry points to diversity success stories like BET, TV One and Oxygen.  The reality is that none of these channels is minority-owned, using the government's own definition of slightly more than 50% minority ownership. 

BET is owned by Viacom; Comcast holds a substantial ownership in TV One; and a big interest in Oxygen belongs to Time-Warner.  In fact, the only cable network that meets the MTDP "minority-owned" definition is Univision, the most popular Spanish-speaking channel in the country.  All of the other "minority stations" that the industry points to are in fact owned by large media conglomerates. For a guide to who owns what in the media, see the Columbia Journalism Review's Who Owns What or the Center for Public Integrity's Media Tracker.

  • Limited Employment: Numerous studies show that minority employment in the media industry does not reflect the diversity of our country.  The Radio and Television News Directors Associationís 2005 report on Women and Minorities in Broadcast News shows that minority employment is down in both television and radio.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundationís newsroom diversity survey reported that, of survey respondents, "374 of the nation's newspapers have all-white staffs (i.e. no employees of black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American descent in any job as a newsroom supervisor, reporter, copy editor, photographer or artist)."

UNITY: Journalists of Color and the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism found that fewer than 10.5 percent (60 out of 574) of the reporters, correspondents, columnists, editors, and bureau chiefs in the Washington daily newspaper press corps are journalists of color.

Studies show that poor representation in programming occurs when minorities are unable to gain access to ownership and employment within the media industry.  For example, Consumers Union prepared an executive summary (PDF) on behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights addressing the link between media content that misrepresents people of color and policy decisions that impact all Americans.  And the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, in their "Network Brownout" study (PDF) found that, "of the estimated 16,000 stories that aired on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC in 2004, only 115, or 0.72 percent, were exclusively about Latinos."

A Step Backward?

It is disheartening to note that in recent years there has been a scaling-back of government efforts to increase the number of media properties owned by people of color.  One of the most successful tools in the struggle to increase minority media ownership was the Tax Certificate Program, which allowed companies that sold to minorities to defer capital gains taxes. This program no longer exists.

David Honig, of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council (MMTC), stated that 50% of minority-owned stations owe their origins to the Tax Certificate Program, which was terminated in 1995.  Industry watchers like Erwin G. Krasnow and Lisa M. Fowlkes believe the cancellation was in large part meant to prevent a deal that would have resulted in Viacom's cable systems being sold to an African-American group. 

Looking Ahead

There are plenty of people who refuse to accept defeat and are working hard to improve opportunities for people of color:

  • Last year, MMTC issued a list of initiatives that could improve minority ownership
  • The National Hispanic Media Coalition has filed more than 100 petitions with the FCC to deny radio and TV licenses to broadcasters who fail to properly employ and portray Hispanics
  • Senator John McCain has introduced legislation to bring back a tax certificate program
  • Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Media Access Project, among others, provide additional information on the status of minority media ownership
  • The FCC Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age included recommendations (PDF) regarding equal employment opportunity and workplace diversity in their press release this year
  • The National Asian American Telecommunications Association funds, produces and distributes films, videos and programs that portray the richness and diversity of Asian culture
  • The interfaith World Association for Christian Communication regularly publishes a global Media and Gender Monitor 
  • Consumers Unionís Minority Media project focuses on improving outreach to minority groups and developing legislative/market-based proposals to improve minority media ownership.
  • The Leadership Committee on Civil Rights (LCCR) was among the groups that filed comments with the FCC during their media ownership rules review.  LCCR took the position that media concentration poses risks to minority ownership, viewpoint diversity and access to information
  • Minority programmers, producers and distributors continue to create, and seek outlets for, high-quality programming, for example:
    • Peggy Dobson of the Urban Broadcasting Network (UBC) "is committed to helping change the negative images that have often stereotyped people of color"
    • Rev. Glenn Plummer, the African-American CEO of the Christian TV Network, testified before Congress about cable channel choice.  During the question and answer period, he said that Comcast demanded a stake in his company in order to air his network.
    • The mission of CoLours TV is to use telecommunications to promote positive images and programming by and for people of color,  to foster greater understanding and harmony in today's diverse world
    • Brian P. Woolfolk, of Mattox Woolfolk, LLC, provides pro bono representation for minority programmers who have been frustrated in attempts to gain carriage for their programming.