Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "broadcaster accountability"

Sustaining our Leadership Role, UCC Members Speak out in Federal Court to Stop Media Mergers

Friday April 12, UCC OC Inc. continued its effort to block federal rules that are permitting vastly increased consolidation in television, radio and newspapers in local communities. Following up on its opening brief, filed last December, UCC OC Inc. and its allies filed their response to the Federal Communications Commission and industry briefs which defend consolidation. 

 

The question of legal "standing" is an important issue at this stage of the case. In order to bring a lawsuit, a person or an organization must have standing, that is, must demonstrate that they have been, or will be, harmed by the actions they are challenging. The UCC has a special connection to legal standing, as OC Inc.'s groundbreaking lawsuits in the 1960s under the leadership of Rev. Everett Parker, established the right of viewers and listeners to participate at the FCC and in court. Today, the doctrine of standing has been narrowed over the years by the courts, raising barriers to participation. Without standing, ordinary people and public interest organizations cannot legally protect the rights of viewers, listeners and independent content creators.

 

In the case of the current suit, UCC OC Inc. showed that the church has standing--through harm to its members and harm to its own work caused by the federal rule changes. To do this, UCC OC Inc. relied on declarations of a proud UCC member and its board chair. OC Inc. is very grateful to Tony Miller, of St. John's UCC in Chambersburg, PA, near Harrisburg. His declaration showed that if local TV news is degraded, he might have trouble protecting the earth by tracking the permit approval process of a local powerline proposal. He would also have less information about his home community of Shippensburg, PA, and would receive even less information about local efforts to protect LGBTQ rights or local primary elections. UCC OC Inc.'s board chair, Earl Williams, Jr., member of South Euclid UCC in Cleveland, explained that the church's work as a whole is harmed by media mergers and the lack of representation in media and news. Citing the General Synod resolutions on Anti-Racism in the Church, Williams explained that when members of the church do not receive sufficient information from local media, the UCC "must work harder to educate our members about the history of race in the United States, the impact of structural racism, and the present-day incarnations of that racism."

 

Ravi Kapur, winner of OC Inc.'s 2017 McGannon Award and member of Free Press (one of the other participants in the suit) described the impact of consolidation on his efforts, as an entrepreneur of South Asian descent, to serve underserved communities. He owns TV stations in Chicago, San Francisco, and Orlando and in Fargo, ND and owns Diya TV, the first 24-hour U.S. broadcast network serving the South Asian audience, broadcasting to more than 70 million people in a dozen markets nationwide. Kapur described the challenges of expanding his company and successfully serving communities in given widespread media consolidation. He highlighted the innovation creative station owners can bring, explaining his TV station in Fargo "produces more local programming than every other television station in North Dakota combined" and his new efforts to create a new stream of Native American programming there.

 

These UCC members and allies are helping to push back rules that will permit more consolidation in local media. If these rules had not been changed, mergers like the mega-merger proposed by Sinclair Broadcasting or the Nexstar takeover of Tribune would not be possible. Studies show that people still rely tremendously on local TV news--even people who read their news on the Internet rely on local TV journalism, especially at the current time when so many local newspapers are failing.

 

Your support of OC Inc.'s work makes this effort possible.

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Trump FCC Affirms Operating Blind for 15 Years on Equal Employment Opportunity

Today the Trump FCC refused to comply with the law. The Communications Act requires the FCC to collect broadcasting and cable equal employment opportunity (EEO) data. While the Bush FCC voted to collect that data in 2004 under then-Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC's leadership has ignored its statutory obligation for 15 years and reaffirmed that refusal at today's open meeting.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights raised this concern with the FCC last summer when the FCC expended resources to eliminate an inconsequential form while ignoring its must more important legal obligation to collect EEO hiring data. 

 

Commissioners Starks and Rosenworcel raised this question with Chairman Pai this week. Mr. Pai refused to take action to collect the data even though the data collection form is approved and ready to go and one minor open issue has been ready for a decision for 15 years. We are particularly grateful to Commissioners Starks and Rosenworcel for raising these important civil rights issues which were ignored in the draft of the order that was originally released by the FCC.

 

UCC OC Inc. has a special connection to this question. In 1967, Dr. Everett Parker, OC Inc.'s founder, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to adopt pro-active equal employment opportunity (EEO) rules. The following year, after a significant public outcry and the 1968 Kerner Commission report highlighting the negative impact of media coverage which ignored people of color, the Commission adopted those rules. They stood at the forefront of a series of FCC and EEOC efforts which revolutionized EEO obligations and practices throughout the media and telecommunications industry. In 1992, Congress institutionalized these rules into law.

 

While the FCC paused its data collection in 2002 and 2003 after two problematic court decisions, the Bush FCC affirmed in 2004 that collection of statistical data had no constitutional implications and were not barred by those court decisions. The Commission has only one final loose end to wrap up (on the appropriate confidentiality treatment of EEO data) in order to collect EEO statistics.

 

Without data about who is being hired, the FCC and the public have no idea whether the recruitment rules and efforts are working. Today many Silicon Valley companies voluntarily release employment statistics as a form of holding themselves accountable. There is no excuse that broadcasting, which uses public airwaves to operate, does not face the same accountability.

 

The FCC has been failing to collect and use the data about who owns television and radio stations and today has seemingly committed to completely ignoring who works in television and radio. Chairman Pai just created a new Office of Economics and Analytics, but is not collecting the data his agency is required to collect. 


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Kids Without Internet Get No Help from FCC

Working on social justice always involves steps forward and steps back. Even as last week we celebrated a step forward in communications policy, today we are pushed forcefully back. Today's 2 and a half page ruling by the Federal Communications Commission to reject two 10-year old petitions consisting of hundreds of pages by the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners are as deaf to the public interest and the Commission's role as any rulings under any administration. 

 

At the same time that Chairman Wheeler stood up to special interests in the Net Neutrality vote last week, the FCC's media bureau--which ultimately reports to the Chairman's office--was busy taking dictation from the broadcast lobby.  The losers are children who rely on broadcast TV—which is a lot of low income families and households of color.

 

These complaints were part of a series of complaints filed in 2004 and 2005. These complaints were designed to give the FCC a chance to issue rulings that would clarify that some of the most egregious violations of the Children's Television Act were out of bounds. We challenged soap operas posing as educational television for Spanish-speaking children. We challenged programming filled with advertisements for Medigap insurance and incontinence products as clearly not directed to children. We challenged programming described by our expert analysts as "among the most violent children’s shows … seen in … 20 years of studying children’s television" as insufficient to meet the children's educational obligations of broadcasters. 

 

While those petitions took immense resources and involvement from churches and communities all around the country, these examples were selected because they were egregious and obvious violations of law. In 2007 the Bush FCC fined Univision $24 million dollars--at the time the largest FCC fine ever levied--based on one of the petition about the now-infamous Complices al Rescate soap opera. Eight years ago, the pending NBC acquisition forced the FCC to take the petition seriously. Today, we have no merger to focus attention on broadcasters, and this order is released on Wheeler's watch when attention is focused elsewhere.

 

In the distant future, the business of television might well exclude any reliance on FCC licenses. But that time is not now. As we explained recently in a letter to the FCC asking them to take up this issue, the nearly 100 million US households that don’t subscribe to broadband are more likely to depend on broadcast TV for educational shows and, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, minorities currently make up 41% of broadcast-only homes. For the children in these households, educational programming at home comes from broadcast TV. 

 

And today the FCC's action told these children that no one is willing to look out for them.

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UCC Media Justice arm files petition with FCC to stop media consolidation

By W. Evan Golder

 

No matter where you live in the United States, a UCC OC Inc. petition filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday, July 24, will affect you.   The petition seeks to deny the right of Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, to expand its hold in five media markets by buying a TV company called Belo Corp.  If the merger is approved by the FCC, it will affect media markets, large and small, across the country.  The petition focused on five of the hardest hit markets.  Members of the UCC filed to demonstrate to the FCC how they would be harmed by the merger.

 

In Phoenix, the Rev. David W. Ragan watches Phoenix’s three television stations – KTVK, KPNX, and KASW – and subscribes to Phoenix’s only major daily newspaper, the Arizona Republic.  But he finds it “almost impossible” to get media coverage for events sponsored by groups fighting for equality in Arizona “when our cause is against the positions taken by the dominant perspectives of the press and the community it shapes.”

 

In Tucson, the Rev. Teresa Blythe regularly watches KTTU and KMSB and reads the Arizona Daily Star, the only daily newspaper providing news of her entire community. Gannett, which currently owns 23 television stations and 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including half-ownership of the Star, proposes to provide major services to KTTU and KMSB. “Without independent voices,” Blythe says, “there will be less investigative journalism, which allows corporate interests via press releases and highly ‘spinned’ news to dominate the news.”

 

In St. Louis, the Rev. David Beebe serves Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. Among the television stations he watches are KMOV and KSDK, both of which Gannett proposes to own. This potential common ownership “harms me,” he says, “by sharply reducing the number of independent voices and competitive news sources available to me.”

 

In five media markets, these three and Louisville, Ky., and Portland, Ore., Gannett proposes to purchase broadcast licenses, thus reducing the number of media outlets in these markets—and the number of sources of news and information.

 

But this media consolidation cannot occur in a vacuum. These deals must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission—and the public has a right to oppose them.

 

So the UCC’s media justice arm, OC Inc., short for UCC Office of Communication, Inc., joined with five other public interest organizations to file objections to this media concentration. The other groups are Free Press, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians and the Broadcasting and Cable Television Workers Sector of the Communication Workers of America (NABET), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and Common Cause.

The filing today and the every member of the public’s right to hold media accountable at the FCC are due to the legal rulings established by OC, Inc. More than 50 years ago, OC, Inc.’s founder, Everett Parker, mounted a concerted campaign to deny the license of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss and successfully divested the station from its owners.

 

One of the UCC members who helped with Wednesday's filing was inspired by the original work to take part.  St. Louis pastor David Beebe was new to ministry when Everett Parker created OC, Inc. “Up to then, I had thought of a denomination’s Office of Communication as the publicity arm of the church,” he says. “I hadn’t thought of it doing social justice. But I learned what he was doing in Jackson, Miss., and I was very proud. Now I’m grateful that OC, Inc., is still functioning and doing the work that Everett Parker started.”

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FCC's must act to address data gap in underserved communities' needs, cannot rely on flawed study

In two filings today and yesterday, United Church of Christ, OC Inc. was pleased to address several important components of the Federal Communications Commission's proceedings considering media concentration limits.   Today, UCC OC Inc. joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights comments submitted in response to the Federal Communications Commission's release of the Critical Information Needs Research Design.  The comment praised the FCC for releasing the design and highlighted it as an important step to counter the substantial dearth of studies addressing the needs of underserved communities.  It noted that the FCC cannot proceed with its proposals  to change existing media ownership rules in the pending quadrennial review, explaining the current record is "flawed" because of "its lack of adequate data analyzing media concentration’s impact on people of color and women."  The letter described a number of refinements which would improve the research protocol.

 

Yesterday, UCC OC Inc. filed a detailed pleading analyzing  recent study by the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council, also in response to FCC request for comments.  The filing, written by Georgetown Law Center's Institute of Public Representation, concluded that the FCC "may not and should not" rely on the MMTC study in the ongoing media ownership and diversity proceedings.  Yesterday's filing described the study's flaws.  It explained that the study utilized only 14 interviews and lacked any transparency or description of the markets that were studied.  Further, while the study claimed that its results provided  no reasons to alter the FCC proposal to permit more consolidation, in fact 3 of the 14 interviewees did identify problems with the type of media consolidation in question -- joint ownership of TV stations and newspapers.  Finally, the study conflated a lack of evidence with proof that no harm exists--something that responsible research cannot do.

 

These filings are part of UCC OC Inc.'s on-going efforts to promote a diverse and accountable media.

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