In the two years since President Obama named his law school buddy Julius Genachowski as chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC has depended on support from minority groups for its biggest policy initiatives, including net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan. Now those groups are looking for some payback, or at least more attention.
“We had the administration’s back. Now the administration should turn their authority to this objective,” said David Honig, president and executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.
In a Feb. 22 letter to Genachowski, 23 minority groups—including the MMTC, the NAACP and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition—blasted the commission for what they said has been a poor civil rights record recently. The groups charge that the FCC has dragged its feet on just about every minority-related responsibility it has.
“We did not think it possible that…the status of civil rights at the FCC would get even worse, but it has,” the groups wrote.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who is a senior member of the House committee that has oversight responsibility for the FCC, was copied on the letter. In a statement that his office provided to Adweek, Rush—a former Black Panther—said he agreed with the sentiments expressed in the letter.
“I have been grossly underwhelmed by the lip service and platitudes I have heard from this commission,” Rush said. “Their words aren’t matching up with their actions.”
Asked by Adweek to respond to the minority groups, FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said by e-mail that the FCC was “committed to upholding and fostering the civil rights of every American.” Kenny also offered a few examples. “This FCC has made great strides in this area, from its work with Comcast and NBCU and fixing key provisions in the Sirius-XM merger to working with Congress to solve a significant dispute over Arbitron’s portable people meter service,” he said.
The statistics show that whatever the FCC has been doing or not doing, improving minority media ownership remains an uphill climb.
“Minority television ownership has decreased by 50 percent since 1999. Minority radio ownership has declined by 9 percent just within the last three years. Minority wireless and cable system ownership levels are near zero. Finally, minority radio journalism employment has plummeted to less than 1 percent, a level not seen since 1950,” the minority-group letter said.