Business

Business Exchange: What does the media have to do with public opinions?

Don’t believe the hype that African Americans are gaining parity in American society and the all-important-opinion-forming media. Regarding media, note who we see, hear and read on television, radio, newspapers and in movies has a great deal of influence on shaping attitudes. Don’t believe the hype that African Americans are gaining parity in American society and the all-important-opinion-forming media. Regarding media, note who we see, hear and read on television, radio, newspapers and in movies has a great deal of influence on shaping attitudes.
Speaking of attitudes, even though there is an African-American head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), isn’t it time to take into account his complicity in the continuing lack of diversity in the media? What has he done to enhance how stories involving Blacks are covered and the limited opportunities for us in media professions? Recently the FCC, under the chairmanship of Republican Michael K. Powell, voted to permit greater concentration of media ownership in fewer hands. The ruling raised the percentage of American households a single station owner may reach from 35 to 45 percent, increased the number of stations an owner may hold in one market and eased regulations preventing cross-ownership – a single owner holding the major newspaper, radio and television station in a market.

The business of America is business, and there’s nothing wrong with increasing overall commerce and economic output. The problem is that Michael Powell has given scant interest, or involvement, toward increasing African-American participation in the $950 billion communications industry. The Powell-led FCC ruling is a defeat for Blacks and public interest. It diminishes diversity of media ownership, local staffing of media outlets, access to broadcasting outlets and independent reporting. It’s also a defeat for public integrity: The rules vote came without significant public debate, but followed years of private meetings and paid junkets between FCC Commissioners and owners and broadcasters they regulate.

Though he may be Black, there is ample question as to Chairman Powell’s allegiance to African Americans and their media aspirations. A scion of Beltway royalty, Secretary of State Colin Powell's only son is that rarest of political gems – a Black Republican diehard. He became chairman of the FCC, the five-person panel that lords over Big Media and the Baby Bells, at the tender age of 38. The consummate good soldier, the 40-year-old Powell seems to exercise great zeal toward maintaining the status quo for Big Media. Studies show that FCC Commissioners accepted $2.8 million dollars over eight years for 2,500 trips paid for primarily by the industry they are charged to regulate. Powell racked up $84,921 worth of industry-financed travel since his 1997 appointment.

A second-generation middle-class African-American, FCC Chairman Powell has been more of “the problem” than solution toward Black access to media participation and ownership. Although the FCC has already issued its Big Media ruling, the debate continues and it behooves those concerned with issues of racial diversity and media democracy to agitate and protest this erosion of access to information and ideas. With media empires like Clear Channel owning 1,200 radio stations nationwide and Viacom controlling 42 percent of the nation's listeners and 45 percent of the revenues, we have to question how much of a free press we really have. If African Americans want greater involvement in the trillion-dollar communications industry they need to understand how the change in rules affects them and join millions who’ve flooded FCC headquarters with opposition letters to the ruling. Citizens concerned with media ownership favor a tightening of regulations with stricter enforcement to match. The debate over media deregulation is not between left and right, but between civic and corporate values.

The airwaves are a public asset valued at as much as $17 billion that the U.S. government gives away to a handful of private companies. Government regulations that put some limits on the imperial ambitions of media giants gave minority

September 8, 2003
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