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Libby Reinish's picture

Add your voice to the comments

Alright folks, let’s take a poll:

Raise your hand if you think our current media system covers the issues you care about and gives you the information you need to better understand the world around you. If your hand is up, lucky you. If your hand is down, you’re not alone.

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission invited the public to its headquarters to find out what researchers have learned about our information needs, and particularly about barriers to accessing critical information like news, emergency information, and information about local elections. It was a staid affair. A literature review. Not the sort of thing that gets most people riled up. But about 100 members of the public showed up to listen to the expert panel and share their own thoughts about how well our media system is serving different communities’ needs.

The researchers and the audience appeared to agree on one thing: the critical information needs of many communities, particularly marginalized and disadvantaged ones, are not being met.

This is a problem. A big one. We all depend on local media for information to help us decide how to vote, to learn about economic opportunities, and to keep our families safe and healthy. But when people have difficulties accessing this information because of race, income or disability, we all suffer.

As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn correctly pointed out, “When we fail to insist that the critical information needs of all Americans are met, we send a message to those un-served or underserved communities, unintended or not, that they are not worth as much as those communities whose information needs are fully met. This further fuels alienation and isolation.... [T]he FCC must devote more attention to meeting the critical information needs of all Americans by breaking down barriers and thus paving the way for new opportunities.”

Commissioner Clyburn is right. The FCC has a statutory obligation to address the major barriers to entry that prevent unrepresented groups like women and people of color from owning businesses in the communications and media industry. So far, the agency has fallen far short of this mandate. For example, there are 1,394 full power commercial TV stations in the country. African Americans own just nine of them. Women, who make up a majority of the population, own just 6% of all broadcast outlets. A court of appeals has warned the FCC twice that it must do something about these shocking figures before letting big media conglomerates buy any more stations.

We need the FCC to create sustainable policies that promote a fairer and more competitive media marketplace by making sure that every person — regardless of color or gender — has a meaningful opportunity to serve the public and succeed in the communications and media industry. We also need to better understand the hurdles that prevent these groups from participating in media markets.

One thing we do know is that increased media consolidation is not helping. Excess consolidation has crowded out diverse owners, leaving women and people of color with fewer opportunities to become media owners and promote diverse programming in local communities. Even so, the agency seems bent on forging blindly ahead with a plan to allow even more concentrated control for local media outlets.

The research discussed yesterday is an important first step. But it’s not enough. We need to keep the discussion moving and urge the FCC to more actively promote diverse and responsive media. At the very least it should not permit further media consolidation, which would have the opposite effect.

This post was originally published on Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Free Press does not support or oppose any candidate for public office. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications.

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