Posted on June 30, 2021

Congressional Leaders Urge FCC to Perform Equity Audit

Kat Stafford, Associated Press, June 29, 2021

Congressional leaders and a media advocacy group are urging the Federal Communications Commission to examine how policy decisions and programs have disparately harmed Black Americans and other communities of color, according to a letter sent Tuesday to the acting FCC chair.

In the letter, first shared with The Associated Press, Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York, Yvette Clarke of New York, and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan along with Media 2070 said the FCC should conduct an assessment to “address and redress” the harm the agency’s policies and programs have caused Black and brown communities and identify the “affirmative steps the agency commits to taking to break down barriers to just media and telecommunication practices.”

The FCC is an independent governmental agency that is responsible for regulating the nation’s communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. In total, 25 members of Congress signed onto the letter, including Congresswomen Karen Bass of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.


Media 2070, an initiative created by the Black caucus of the nonpartisan organization Free Press, has called for media reparations for the Black community and the FCC letter is part of its efforts. Earlier this month it delivered a petition to 3,000 newsrooms across the country, urging news outlets to “dismantle anti-Black racism in the media, trust Black journalists and care for Black communities.”

“Although many journalists and artists of color have used their talent to ensure critical stories about their communities are being told, our nation’s big media companies nevertheless continue to stereotypically depict people of color as being a threat or a burden to society,” the lawmakers wrote in their joint letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Historic federal policies are a primary reason why structural inequities exist in our nation’s media and telecommunication systems today. FCC policies, license decisions and inaction have had the result of effectively excluding people of color from media ownership opportunities.”


President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January, directing executive agencies to assess how federal policies have exacted harm upon communities of color. {snip}


People of color own and control just 6% of our nation’s full-power TV stations, 7% of commercial FM radio stations and 12% of commercial AM radio stations despite making up more than 40% of the U.S. population. As of 2017, Black Americans owned or controlled less than 1% of television stations, the group said, citing a 2020 FCC, Media Bureau, Industry Analysis Division report.

Bowman said he supports a full racial equity audit of the FCC.

“Dismantling structural racism is a priority of our office,” Bowman said. “Media controls our narrative and controls our consciousness and if people of color aren’t owning those spaces and are strategically and just purposely excluded from those spaces, we have to do something about that.”

A 2011 FCC report on the changing media landscape found that broadcast owners of color and advocates “largely attribute low minority broadcast ownership levels to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which relaxed the local broadcast ownership rules and led to increased consolidation in broadcast media.” The newspaper and radio industries have also faced rapid consolidation.


In 1978, the FCC created the minority tax-certificate program, which allowed broadcasters to receive a tax break if they sold their stations to people of color. But in 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation that ended the program, which had increased broadcast ownership by people of color from less than 1% to 3%.


Media 2070 leaders said the goal of the letter is to not only push the FCC to address its history and shift the public conversation but also outline tangible steps to repair harm, including fixing the ongoing consolidation of media and directing financial resources into Black-owned platforms.