WASHINGTON, D.C.-Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has introduced a bill to Congress that would make it unlawful to advertise "in a manner which discriminates against any communications entity by reason of ... race, color or ethnic background."
The Broadcasters Fairness in Advertising Act of 1999 would prevent companies and agencies from placing ads in a way that discriminates against minority-owned or formatted radio and cable stations.
"There is a silent and pervasive trend among ad agencies and the companies they represent to engage in discriminatory practices," Rush said. "Year in and year out, minority broadcasters lose millions of dollars in revenues ... the advertising companies would have us believe otherwise."
The bill would also prohibit the federal government from dealing with any agency that intentionally discriminates, and allow stations to file civil actions for redress. Rush's proposal directs the Federal Communications Commission to enforce the measures. The bill stems from an FCC report charging advertisers with paying less for airtime on stations with African American or Hispanic listeners.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have been vocal on the issue were conspicuous in their silence about Rush's bill, indicating it may lack support in the House.
Advertising lobby groups, which oppose the measure, are worried the proposal may have a far more negative effect on companies trying to reform advertising and media buying policies voluntarily.
"It is disappointing," said Heide Gardner, vice president of diversity and strategic planning for the American Advertising Federation. "This kind of legislation could actually discourage the kind of behavior we are trying to encourage."
Hal Shoup, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, was less sanguine. "It is extreme to say the least and a terribly difficult thing to monitor and enforce if it ever became law," Shoup said.