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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "media diversity"

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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Celebrating Christmas with a Suit for Media Justice

Today the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry put the week just before Christmas to good use by continuing its long-standing campaign for equity in communications. UCC OC Inc. joined with allies in federal court contesting the Federal Communications Commission's failure to consider the negative impact the FCC's decisions have had on the total number of TV and radio stations owned by people of color and women. In 2017 the Trump FCC changed several rules that will permit significantly more consolidation, particularly in local television markets. Consolidation means fewer voices in local communities and fewer chances to hear from people underrepresented in television.

 

The case, titled Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, is the fourth law suit since 2002 demonstrating that the FCC has not fulfilled its obligation under law to ensure ownership diversity in broadcasting. The FCC lost all three prior rounds.

 

"The FCC–again–completely failed to lift a finger for people of color and women hoping to own broadcast stations," said Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor and also lead counsel on the brief. "The federal court in Philadelphia has told the FCC three times that it must take a hard look at how consolidation might harm ownership by women and people of color. The FCC continues to whistle in the dark but take no action."

 

UCC OC Inc. is pleased to work alongside its valuable allies, Common Cause, Communication Workers of America, Free Press, Media Mobilizing Project and Prometheus Radio Project in this important campaign for racial and gender justice in communications.

 

Additional filings will be submitted to the court in February and March. Oral argument is anticipated in Philadelphia in the spring. Best Best & Krieger LLP offered pro bono support on the brief.

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FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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Trump Federal Communications Commission Keeps Its Dark Promises

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, like Donald Trump who appointed him, intends to keep his promises. His dissents as a minority Commissioner made clear his plans. This month, after squeaking through his confirmation vote in the Senate, he finally brings out the big guns.

He is fulfilling his promise to gut the FCC's program to assist low income people with the costs of telephone service and broadband.He is fulfilling his promise to turn over the media marketplace to a few, huge owners, while offering women and people of color a fig leaf of paper ownership that conveys no equity rights. And he intends to fulfill his promise next month to turn over Internet freedom to the control of a few large corporate ISPs. These are just a few examples of the decisions that will be adopted next month and the month after, some of which will be almost impossible to reverse if he succeeds.

Not only is he keeping his promises, he is again attempting to disguise them with technical terms and doublespeak that, heretofore, could only be found in George Orwell's dystopia. Thus, he attacks low-income households in a docket titled, "Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers," and his decision to ignore the pleas of civil rights leaders is called "Rules and Policies to Promote New Entry and Ownership Diversity in the Broadcasting Services." Could it be the Commission is secretly ashamed of its actions, using these euphemisms to disguise their favors for corporate America at the expense of the rest of the country?

Perhaps he uses these terms because he knows he is undermining the chances that anyone can question his decisions. The steps he is taking will tip the balance even more toward benefits for the privileged, leaving the most impacted behind, favoring fake news against fact-checked journalism. These decisions combined will mean less access to the Internet, less free speech on the Internet and more inflammatory, uniform broadcast content in cities and towns across the country. If he succeeds, as long as the names sound pretty, the dark effects underneath will be ignored.

The agenda released last night make clear that the Ajit Pai threat is terrifying, and it is no innocent Halloween joke. The scars of the Trump Administration continue, and with these decisions it may be that no journalists or activists will retain the tools needed to challenge them.

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United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman Pai

We congratulate Ajit Pai on being designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today.  We hope to work with Mr. Pai on many areas of common concern, such as media diversity and competition, affordable access to broadband, the end of predatory prison phone rates, and a free and open Internet.  Although Mr. Pai has often spoken eloquently about his commitment to these shared goals, we have not yet been able to find common ground on the means to these ends. 

We believe that media ownership diversity must be premised on hard data, detailed and rigorous study, rigorous enforcement of the FCC's rules, and ownership by women and people of color that does not leave them financially dependent upon large corporations or struggling to succeed as small companies in overly consolidated media markets. 

 

We believe that affordable access to broadband depends on a robust Lifeline program--a program that was built on conservative principles during the Reagan years as a public-private partnership using efficient market mechanisms to assist only those in need.  Low-income people will get affordable broadband if Lifeline is supported, not torn down, by communications policy leaders. 

 

We believe in fair and just telephone rates for the millions of children, families and clergy seeking to connect with in prison, detention centers and jails.  Leaders who agree, as Mr. Pai has said he does, that these rates are unjust and must be reduced have a moral obligation to defend and protect these innocent families.  Relying on the unverified, self-serving claims of companies and correctional facilities facing no limit on their desire to increase profits will lead to even more abusive rates.

 

We believe that, as the backbone of an increasing share of all our national conversations, a free and open Internet protected by Net Neutrality is fundamental to social justice.  All people must be able to speak with their own, God-given, voices, regardless of their incomes or races. Government leaders, locally and nationally, must be able to ensure that all children and families have access to affordable broadband in their schools and homes.  Our ability to speak and participate in civic discourse should not depend on whether we access the internet via a smartphone or a computer.  Commercial popularity should not be the sole arbiter of whether a story can be heard.

 

People of faith know the power of a story to change hearts and to change the world.  In modern times, we visit people in prison via telephone, we love our neighbors as ourselves online, and we care for the least of these because we view them (or not) on television.

 

Today, Mr. Pai must start the hard work of governing, rather than dissenting.  We will see whether Mr. Pai's policies produce an open marketplace of ideas or whether they simply support large corporate conglomerates that are politically indebted to an administration that has shown no reluctance to attack journalists for reporting the facts.  We will see whether low-income families get access to broadband or whether clergy can afford to call their congregants in prison.  We will see if the non-commercial stories of God are pushed to internet slow-lanes in favor of highly profitable commercial entertainment.  As part of the United Church of Christ, we believe in civil dialogue in disagreement, even as we remain committed to our prophetic witness for justice.  Even in times of great challenge, we commit to both.

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