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Seize the Airways!

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Betty Yu, MAG-Net

Betty Yu, MAG-Net

If the FCC is sincere about its role in protecting the public’s interest in telecommunications and media markets, then they cannot further relax media ownership rules. The recent proposal on the table threatens to gut the 30-year-old broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rule that allows one company to own a daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in one town. We know that today, media ownership is already concentrated in the hands of a few corporations thanks to the loosening of ownership rules by Washington in the last several decades. These corporate media giants not only own the broadcast networks and local stations; but also own the pipeline — the cable and the Internet signals that deliver most of the media content.

Members of our Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a national network of over 140 community and locally based organizations working to advance a people-centered media justice agenda, understand the devastating impact the recent proposed media ownership rule changes could have on communities of color and women.

On December 4, MAG-Net along with Free Press and Prometheus Radio Project, organized a National Day of Action where hundreds of our members and allies from around the country called FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel to express their concerns. These two commissioners in particular have proven to be the most sympathetic to media regulation in the public interest. Our members asked the commissioners to oppose this dangerous proposal until there could be a deeper analysis of the FCC’s own recently released data to assess the impact that allowing increased media consolidation would have on communities of color and women. The FCC reports that people of color own only 4 percent of TV stations and 8 percent of radio stations, despite comprising 30 percent of the U.S. population. Furthermore, women only own 7 percent of TV stations. We believe that if these two commissioners oppose the rule changes Chairman Genachowski would back down.

It’s vital that we keep the pressure on. Now is the time to accelerate our organizing and raise our voices about the negative impact this will have on people of color and women and the intersecting social justice issues we care about.
Our calls, letters, petitions and public opposition paid off. It looks like the FCC did back down for now, but they will be voting on media ownership next year. It’s vital that we keep the pressure on. Now is the time to accelerate our organizing and raise our voices about the negative impact this will have on people of color and women and the intersecting social justice issues we care about. We know that media diversity is intimately tied to how the social justice issues that impact the poor, working class and people of color are portrayed — or blacked out — in corporate media.

At MAG-Net, we believe that’s it’s not enough just to push back against policies that would further media consolidation. What is left unaddressed is the need for more funding for media diversity studies and research. The public has a right to know the FCC’s rationale for allowing further consolidation that will clearly make it more difficult for diverse voices to be heard.

Danielle Mkali of the Main Street Project, MAG-Net’s anchors in our Minneapolis chapter expresses the need for more media diversity in her community:

“Despite African Americans only representing 5 percent of the overall population of the state of Minneapolis, images of African Americans are consistently used in local major papers whenever criminal justice issues are being reported. If the FCC relaxes media ownership rules it will make it nearly impossible for women and people of color in the Twin Cities to gain ownership and create accurate and ethical coverage of Minnesota’s American Indian and communities of color.”

Just last week at the same time that the FCC was looking at relaxing media ownership rules, the commissioners voted on the final criteria for determining how to award Low Power FM (LPFM) radio licenses next year. This is a huge victory for media justice and has the potential to allow hundreds of historically underrepresented communities across the country to own and operate their own media infrastructure through a LPFM radio station. These licenses will be the last and single greatest expansion of radio in American history.

Thanks to the hard work of Prometheus Radio Project and many others, we can capitalize on this opportunity to seize the airwaves and start our own radio stations free from corporate domination. MAG-Net and Prometheus Radio Project along with others will be working in the next year to help grassroots communities apply for their own radio stations. These stations will reflect and serve the needs of local communities and will truly be run ‘by and for’ the people.

Betty Yu coordinates the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) where she manages their national media justice network of over 100 grassroots community organizations, coordinates nine regional chapters and curates the media justice learning community. She has over 15 years of community organizing, media activist and filmmaking experience.

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