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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "media diversity"

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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Federal Court: Time for Delay on Ownership Diversity Studies is Over

Upon the issuance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in Prometheus Radio Project v. Federal Communications Commission, Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor for UCC OC Inc. said:

Since 2004 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has been reviewing the FCC’s media ownership rules—pressing again and again for FCC action to accompany the FCC’s words in support of increasing media ownership diversity. 

The Third Circuit has confirmed that the time for delay is over.  The FCC has promised studies on minority and female ownership for more than two decades and today the court has concluded, if the FCC “needs more data” to find a definition that will improve minority ownership, “it must get it.” 

The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., looks forward to sitting down with the FCC to develop a timeline within the court-ordered 60-day timeframe to make sure that the long-awaited studies are undertaken.

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Categories: media diversity

Progress on Diversity Today, Hope for More Diversity Tomorrow

Today the FCC took action which might be a modest harbinger of better news on this front in the future.  The FCC approved a number of transactions which will add new broadcast owners of color and women.  Setting aside the details of each transaction, it is important to note, as Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn did today, that this welcome increase in African American, Asian American and women owners comes as a direct result of the FCC's decision to start enforcing the ownership rules already on the books.  Last spring the FCC recognized that so-called "sidecar" or Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) between stations take advantage of a legal loopholes to achieve concentration in excess of ownership limits. 

 

This is a great example showing how the FCC's media ownership rules are an important way that the FCC can ensure we have a diverse media.  The stations transfers approved today took place because, once the loophole was closed, the existing owners were not permitted to keep stations in violation of the FCC's rules.  If the FCC's rules had been enforced as they should have been for the last 15 years, perhaps our media ownership numbers would not be as dismal as they are now.

 

The FCC can repeat this success in its currently pending 2014 Quadrennial Review of ownership rules, but only if it takes action now.  While the FCC closed the loophole of JSAs (which stations use to jointly sell advertising), many other similar ownership arrangements continue under the moniker of "SSAs" or Shared Services Agreements.  Not only are these agreements similar to JSAs in their ability to evade compliance with the FCC's ownership rules, but they strike at the heart of the FCC's core goals because they enable televisions stations to consolidate news operations.   In several important markets in our country--for example in Honolulu--viewers see the same newscast on three separate TV stations.  This not only limits multiple newscasts to one viewpoint, but eliminates jobs for reporters.  These agreements are also problematic because they create "financial dependency," as Wheeler and Clyburn put it, on the part of putative owners, depriving those dependent owners of capital and wealth.

 

SSAs are clothed in secrecy, because unlike JSAs, broadcasters are not required to disclose their terms to either the FCC or the public.  The FCC missed an important opportunity last spring when it could have required these agreements to come under scrutiny.  If the FCC wants to see more deals like the ones it approved today, it needs to require SSA disclosure in the first half of 2015--so there is enough time to analyze these agreements and adopt rules eliminating the remaining loopholes as part of the pending review.   

 

Evan as national events confirm once again, that, yes, race does matter in how we perceive so many important aspects of daily life and public policy, we see a glimmer of hope that the people with insight into the needs of communities who have so long been closed out of the mass media might have a chance to shape local news in some places in the years to come.

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Makani Themba's 2014 Parker Lecture Remarks

Thank you. first, I want to congratulate Kathy Sandoval, what great company to have on this day. thank you for your amazing work over the years. I want to thank my movement family – especially my comrades at the praxis project who share this award with me. Thank you to my sistar Jaribu Hill for being here, for her incredible work as a hunan rights lawyer and culture warrior

Thank you united church of christ office of communication. what an August and incredible institution. thank you for your pioneering leadership, leadership that has always understood that there can be no justice when people are silenced. thank you.

I am deeply, deeply honored to receive this recognition named for one of my personal heroes, Rev. Rverett C. Parker. and in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the challenge filed against the license of WLBT in Jackson, MS? Just amazing! when Rev. Parker, Aaron Henry and Rev. R.l.T. Smith filed that challenge 50 years ago, you could only get involved in FCC matters if you had what they thought was an economic stake or the broadcaster signals created interference. this petition, the years of organizing at its foundation, and the groundbreaking decision that followed will always be a core inspiration to me.

Mississippi is very much on my mind these days.

There have been many milestone anniversaries commemorated this year – 50th anniversary of freedom summer, the civil rights act, the assassination of Medgar Evers and more. I find myself reflecting on the deep, inextricable link between the fight for just access to media and just content grounded in human rights. as Rev. Parker, Rev. Smith and mr. Henry knew back then, racist coverage along with censorship was analogous to shouting fire in a crowded theater. the exclusion of black voices and the promotion of hate had helped to create an environment where black life was cheap.

Access and content operate together. media justice requires we address them both. Renisha Mcbride, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John T. Williams, Henry Glover, Juan Herera, Amadou Diallo, Iman Morales, Eleanor Bumpers, Vincent Chin, and the four little girls murdered in a church basement 51 years ago last month Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise Mcnair there are so many more names to recall. there are so many names we don’t even know. and they number into the millions, over centuries as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap. continuing the legacy of rev. Parker is to break the complicity of media – especially news media — with our dehumanization. of course, media bias does not pull the trigger but it does help paint a target on our backs. we can do so much better. we can be much better. and in doing so, there’s the opportunity to make media worthy of the public’s airwaves as rev. Parker himself imagined.

I will close with the words of one of mississippi’s greatest freedom fighters, ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, whom Jaribu Hill reminded me that yesterday would have been her 97th birthday: she said, in her inimitable way of cutting to the chase, “it’s time for america to get right.”

As Rev. Parker and his comrades showed us decades ago, media justice – just access and just content – is a critical step in that direction. I am holding the vision that when we gather to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this important decision, we will be able to say that our work helped get america right. Thank you again for this incredible honor.

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Categories: media diversity  |  ParkerLecture

Move toward Competition, But Where is Diversity?

FCC Chairman Wheeler yesterday announced his intention to make an important step forward toward more media competition.  The really good news is that Chairman Wheeler is not proposing to permit additional consolidation, which is a significant improvement over the ill-conceived proposal of the prior Chairman, Julius Genachowski.

In addition, Wheeler is proposing to close some loopholes in the existing rules addressing jointly-run (but not jointly-owned) TV stations.  Many years ago, the Supreme Court said about jointly-run news outlets, “it is unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned … combination. The divergency of their viewpoints cannot be expected to be the same as if they were antagonistically run.” The same holds true today. When two TV stations merge, they join staff, news teams and sales teams. There are fewer journalists, and fewer places for members of the community to share stories or to get news. If one reporter isn't interested in a news story, no one is, because there is only one reporter! We see the same effects when those two TV stations are operating together using a complex financial agreement as when the joint ownership is out in the open.

 

And yet, it is still unclear what Chairman Wheeler is proposing to promote media diversity. Today, ownership diversity is devastatingly low. The inadequately collected and analyzed data released by the FCC in 2012 indicated that we have virtually no TV stations owned by people of color or women in the United States, and that number will surely be lower when the more recent data from last December is released.  TV still holds an unprecedented sway over our national conversation, political dialogue and values. Two hundred eighty-three million people (that's out of over 310 million total) in the U.S. watch an average of 146 hours of TV every month.  Without owners from all walks of life and reflecting the full diversity of our nation, our national and local dialogues suffer.

 

The last Obama FCC Chairman Genachowski kicked the can down the road and left office without addressing these issues. The new FCC Chair is pointed in the right direction, but he needs to get across the finish line.

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