When the Federal Communications Commission voted on June 2 to loosen media ownership limits, many of us were justifiably outraged. The new FCC rules, endorsed by the Bush administration, would permit television networks to buy more stations, and a single company to own up to three television stations, eight radio stations, a daily newspaper and a cable operator in the largest cities. Those cities, invariably, are home to large African-American populations.
The most far-reaching overhaul of the country�s media ownership rules in a generation, the FCC vote smacked of heavy pandering to corporate conglomerates whose interests and views would blanket and ultimately robotize Americans. The black community, already deluged with media images and opinions that trample on its dignity, would be even worse off, we feared. Indeed, contrary to FCC Chairman Michael Powell�s argument that the new rules would promote �diversity, localism and competition� and ensure that no single company would monopolize the medium, what little there is of diversity would die and monopolies would rise, we argued.
Passions have ebbed somewhat since then, even more so since the Senate Commerce Committee moved to reverse the FCC�s decision. The committee passed legislation not only to restore the pre-Powell restrictions but also to force a few big radio stations to sell off some of their stations. The outcome is still to be determined, but it looks like the new FCC rules are in trouble.
But the real issue for African-Americans remains: lack of ownership of media networks. Until we have significant ownership of the means of disseminating our news, views and creative products, we will always be on the outraged end of media consolidation moves. That�s what Robert Johnson, who created Black Entertainment Television and then sold it to Viacom, meant when he called for support of Sen. John McCain�s Telecommunications Ownership Diversity Act of 2003. Johnson contends that the bill�s proposed financial incentives�a tax deferral for corporations that sell telecommunications assets to small (read �minority�) businesses for cash, plus reduced taxes on the profits corporations earn when they invest in these small companies�would increase the voice of minorities in the media by facilitating minority ownership.
McCain�s bill is an affirmative action�a concept whose days, judging by the U.S. Supreme Court�s rulings on the University of Michigan�s admission policies, are numbered. The court declared unconstitutional the university�s point system for minority preferences in undergraduate admissions, but let stand its law school program that makes race less prominent in the admissions process.
All the more reason for African-Americans to support Historically Black Colleges, ensuring that their graduates are among the best and brightest in their fields. India threw its weight behind information technology education and today Indian IT graduates dominate the industry worldwide. So it is when you control the means of informing and empowering itself.
By Rosalind McLymont