Mark Lloyd, chief diversity officer at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), still believes what he wrote years ago: “Communications policy is of central importance to all Americans … it touches on our fundamental rights … communications policy is a civil rights issue.”
Lloyd claimed in a remarkable 1998 essay that communications policies enacted by Republicans negatively impacted the civil rights of minorities -- further arguing that two decades of Republican communications policies had compromised the gains made by the civil rights movement in minority ownership in communications, according to a report by CNSNews.com.
If there was failure, he surmised, it wasn’t because the FCC didn’t recognized that civil rights and communications policy were linked and that minority ownership of radio and television stations was deemed essential to correct the lack of diversity in media.
“In the late seventies, in recognition of the lack of progress made with these [equal opportunity] employment policies, the FCC ruled that minority ownership was essential to create a diverse range of messages over the public’s airwaves,” Lloyd wrote.
In keeping with the FCC’s conclusions, the Commission spun-up licensing rules that required that the public participate in the license renewal process. Caps were placed on how many radio and television stations a company could own in one venue; license terms were limited to three years; and station owners were required to comb the local community to glean what the public was interested in.
Despite the Brave New World, Lloyd maintained in his tome that beginning with President Ronald Reagan, the GOP-dominated FCC let such progressive rules lapse – much against the interests of the civil rights community.
“[T]he great progress made by the civil rights communities in the communications policy arena has been rolled back,” Lloyd said. “The Reagan-dominated FCC destroyed the ascertainment process, arguing that it was too much of an administrative burden on the stations and the FCC.
“Licensing renewal can now be accomplished with a postcard,” he wrote. The worst blow, according to Lloyd, was delivered by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“While touted as a landmark bill updating the sixty-year-old Communications Act for the benefit of U.S. consumers, the ‘T96 Act’ was created by and for a communications industry dominated by global conglomerates,” Lloyd argued in his essay.
“Despite the promise of greater competition, the effect of the Act has been an unprecedented wave of consolidation,” Lloyd wrote. “National broadcast ownership limits were increased to 35 percent. Prohibitions limiting ownership of radio, television, and newspapers by one company in the same market were lifted, thus encouraging media consolidation and the crowding out of independent voices.
“Broadcast license periods were increased, making it virtually impossible for local communities to exercise any control over the stations licensed to serve them,” he concluded.
The bottom line: “The civil rights agenda has given way to the agenda of the commercial market,” wrote Lloyd. “The work of the civil rights community has suffered through a sustained assault by the right. The core of that assault is to deny funding to civil rights work, silence liberal voices, and set the agenda of public debate by an opposition that is better funded, more organized, and savvier about strategic communications.
“Combined with this assault is a relentless marketing of the failed dogma of laissez-faire economics,” he added.
However, a 1998 report from the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) concluded that FCC policies were not the primary reason for the minority gap in communications.
“Minority broadcasters are finding it increasingly difficult to compete,” the report concluded. “Access to capital remains one of the most significant impediments to ownership for minorities.”
The Past Is Prologue
A 2007 report sponsored by the FCC and acccomplished by researchers from Duke University found that while minority ownership had increased slightly, the reasons for the remaining gap between minority and white ownership was very much alive and well.
“Since the observed ownership asymmetries are economy-wide, they are undoubtedly linked to broad systemic factors,” the report said. “[T[he most direct explanation lies in unequal access to capital. Many businesses require individuals to sink substantial financial investments upon entry. This is likely to be especially true in media enterprises.”
The only way to change this, the 2007 report said, was to redistribute wealth or increase minorities’ access to capital markets. The report did not mention license terms, renewal procedures, or ascertainment.
“[I]n order to change ownership patterns we need to either change the aggregate distribution of wealth or otherwise increase access to capital markets,” said the report.
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