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FCC should conduct equity audit, Congress leaders demand

The letter was first shared with The Associated Press by Democratic Reps. Jamaal and Yvette Bowman of New York and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, along with Media 2070, stated that the FCC should conduct an evaluation to "address, redress" the harm its policies and programs have caused Black communities and identify the "affirmative actions the agency commits it to take to remove barriers to telecommunications practices."

Independent governmental agency, the FCC regulates national communications via radio, television, wire and satellite. The letter was signed by 25 members of Congress, including Congresswomen Karen Bass from California, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, and Rashida Talib of Michigan.

Experts and media advocates have long worried about the lack of diversity and representation in the media industry. This is partly due to historical exclusionary policies that made it difficult for Black Americans and others across the country to influence and control news coverage.

Media 2070 is an initiative by the Black caucus at the nonpartisan organization Free Press. The FCC letter is one of its efforts to call for media reparations for Black communities. It sent a petition to 3,000 newsrooms in the country earlier this month, asking them to "dismantle anti Black racism in the media", trust Black journalists, and care for Black communities.

In a joint letter, the group addressed Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting FCC Chairwoman, that "even though many journalists and artists of colour have used their talents to ensure critical stories are being told about their communities," they wrote. "Historic federal policy is a major reason structural inequalities exist today in our nation’s media and telecommunications systems." FCC policies, license decisions, and inaction have effectively excluded people of color from media ownership opportunities.

The group pointed out that the FCC and the Federal Radio Commission were the first to grant TV and radio licenses in the country during Jim Crow segregation.

The letter stated that "The efforts of the previous administration to consolidate media markets limited ownership opportunities for peoples of color and women."

While they make up over 40% of the U.S. populace, people of color control only 6% of full-power TV stations, 7% commercial FM radio stations, and 12% commercial AM radio stations. According to the report by 2020 FCC Media Bureau, Industry Analysis Division, Black Americans controlled or owned less than 1% television stations as of 2017.

Bowman stated that he supports an FCC full racial equity audit.

Bowman stated that "Dismantling structural racist is a priority for our office." Media controls our narratives and our consciousness. If people of color don't have those spaces or are deliberately and purposefully excluded, then we must do something."

FCC's 2011 report on the changing media landscape revealed that broadcast owners of colour and advocates "largely attribute low minor broadcast ownership levels to Telecommunications Act of 1996", which relaxed local broadcast ownership rules. This led to greater consolidation in broadcast media. Radio and newspaper industries also have experienced rapid consolidation.

FCC reported that numerous studies had concluded that mainstream media outlets are not adequately covering Black Americans and other communities. The famed Kerner Commission report was released by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. It found that majority-white media outlets failed to adequately cover the 1967 Uprisings in Detroit and other areas from the perspective Black Americans.

"In general, news organizations have not communicated to their Black and White audiences the issues America is facing and possible solutions. According to the 1968 Kerner Commission report, media often report and write from a white man’s perspective.

Even though it has been 50 years since the incident, media companies across the country continue to struggle with a shortage of people of color in their newsrooms and media ownership.

The letter states that "Despite many journalists and artists of colour using their talents to ensure critical stories are being told about their communities, our nation’s big media companies continue to stereotypically portray people of color as a threat or burden to society."

There have been efforts to democratically reform the media system in the country. Some of these changes were reverted.

The FCC established the minority tax certificate program in 1978. This allowed broadcasters to get a tax break when they sold stations to people of colour. The program was ended by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1995. This legislation had increased broadcast ownership of people of color from less that 1% to 3%.

Mark Lloyd, an ex-associate general counsel and chief diversity officer of the FCC, stated that there have been many efforts to address diversity over the years and that Congress requires the agency to review its policies and decide if they are in the public's interest.

Lloyd stated, "That's the law. Having Congress reaffirm that I believe has some utility." "It is also important that the Federal Communications Commission focuses its attention on whether the public is receiving the crucial information it requires."

In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive directive directing executive agencies that they assess the impact of federal policies on communities of color. Each agency was charged with identifying barriers underserved communities or individuals face when trying to access contracts opportunities. Also, determining if new policies, regulations, or guidance documents are necessary to advance equity.

Additionally, the order "strongly encouraged" independent agencies to conduct assessments, including the FCC.

Lawrence stated that she had previously spoken with the FCC regarding representation and she is hopeful that the agency will conduct an audit.

Lawrence stated that President Biden had made a commitment to work for racial equality. This includes the FCC, as we know that some policies have been more restrictive and less inclusive than they have been.

Leaders of Media 2070 stated that the purpose of the letter was to press the FCC to address its past and shift the public discussion but also to outline tangible steps to fix harm. These include fixing the ongoing consolidation in media and redirecting financial resources to Black-owned platforms.

Collette Watson, cocreator of Media 2070: Media Reparations consortium as well as the vice president of cultural strategy at the Free Press, stated that the nation's demographics are shifting and that the media system must change to remain relevant.

Watson stated, "It's more than being diverse or inclusive. It's about completely changing the structure so that we can have something more true to who we are and how our multiracial society will exist." We won't be able to have a media network that tells the truth about Black lives, the truth for all, and is safe for Black people and their stories to be told in. It will be obsolete."

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