FCC Door

More than 100 organizations, including the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Union Writers Guild of America East that represents some radio employees, are asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate and repair what they see as “systemic racism” in media. The groups think federal policies – both in Congress and at the FCC – have “played a foundational role” in the problem’s creation. They see it as part of a wider national racial injustice reckoning that began last year with the murder of George Floyd.

“It’s time for the FCC to acknowledge that its policies and practices are a primary reason why deep structural inequities exist in the media and telecom industries that have harmed the Black community,” the organizations wrote in a letter sent to Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

The groups say the problem began in 1934 when what was then known as the Federal Radio Commission awarded the first commercial radio licenses to White broadcasters at a time when segregation was still a significant factor in much of America. And the first Black-owned radio station didn’t exist until the late 1940s. “Today, Black people own and control a minuscule number of broadcast and cable companies,” the groups write, concluding, “FCC policies have built and sustained structural racism in our media system, including inequitable access to ownership opportunities for Black, Indigenous and Afro-Latinx communities.”

The organizations want the FCC to investigate the impact its media policies have had as it gears up to move forward with the quadrennial media ownership review – and to offset any proposals submitted by broadcasters seeking further consolidation.

“The dozens of groups that signed this letter are sending an unmistakable message to the agency that oversees U.S. media: The current system is unjust and the FCC must begin the process of repair,” said Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement Joseph Torres. “The FCC must come to terms with the decades of harm its policies and programs have caused our communities and identify the reparative steps the agency will take to break down barriers to a just media and telecommunications system.”

Rosenworcel said in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month that she has ordered an across the board review of programs and policies that could keep underserved communities from accessing FCC programs, policies, or staff. “As part of this review, the agency also is considering whether new policies, regulations or guidance may be necessary, including with respect to its media policies,” she said. Yet Rosenworcel also conceded that the effort has become “more challenging” after the Supreme Court earlier this year struck down challenges to media ownership updates, including abolishing newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV cross-ownership limits.