African-Americans exist in a virtual state of media apartheid, facing the closing of the brief window which once encouraged Black ownership of broadcast properties. Via a combination of deregulation and consolidation fostered by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), ownership of radio stations has dramatically declined since the 1996 Telecommunications Act when there were over 300 Black-owned stations to the present level of 51. Clear Channel by comparison owns over 1,200 stations.
A similar crisis exists for African-American ownership of full-power television stations. In less than 10 years, the number Black-owned television stations has evaporated from 21 in 2004 to THREE (3) today with only WJYS-Chicago being the sole completely operated station by an African-American licensee. The National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) declared, “The fact that there are so few African-American owned television stations is a sad commentary on the state of diversity in the broadcast industry and calls for action on the part of the Commission to improve this abysmal ownership situation.”
As both radio and television ownership by African-Americans has precipitously declined, the FCC has failed to devise a remedy to this glaring contradiction in the American democratic system where media licenses are ostensibly held in the public trust. In actuality, the FCC has favored increased consolidation as witnessed by its approval of the $24b Comcast-NBC Universal merger, the $1.5b acquisition of the Belo Co. by Gannett and the Tribune Company’s $2.7b purchase of Local TV Holding LLC.
The access to capital came to a sudden halt with the termination in 1995 of the Tax Certificate Credit which had been designed to facilitate African-American ownership. Today, Black entrepreneurs and institutions face being permanently locked-out from ownership in the American media paradigm.
Yet, one final opportunity has been opened-up via the recent FCC ruling ending Joint Service and Shared Sales Agreements (JSAs). In terminating these arrangements for shared financing, operating and local advertising sales, the FCC stipulated that waivers to this ruling for minority buyers, educational institutions and community organizations would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The approval of waiver applications is the ONLY way a minority small business or educational institution can secure financing. These waivers of the Joint/Shared Sales Arrangements ruling also permit the new owners to control costs, obtain crucial operational and management support during the early years of ownership. As has been reported, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters which had once opposed JSAs has voiced its support, asserting the arrangements can be used as “mechanisms for promoting minority ownership” and without such agreements, “the decline of minority ownership in the broadcast industry will continue.”
We ask that you sign this PETITION calling on Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner Clyburn and the other FCC Commissioners to fast-track the approval of these waiver applications as evidence of its commitment to facilitating African-American media ownership.