Congress 2019

The current session of Congress has been especially quiet on broadcast-related issues. But lawmakers signaled this week that the issue of media ownership diversity remains something that’s not entirely off their radar. Bipartisan resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate that call attention to the “continued challenges of increasing diversity” across all media platforms. The resolution says Congress “reaffirms its commitment to diversity as a core tenet of the public interest standard in media policy” and it “pledges to work with media entities and diverse stakeholders to develop common ground solutions to eliminate barriers to media diversity.”

The resolutions may not change a law or create a new policy like a bill might. Instead, the bigger impact may be as a signal to the Federal Communications Commissions which is midstream in the latest quadrennial review of the agency’s media ownership regulations.

The Senate version of the resolution (S.Res.306) was introduced by Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) while the House resolution (H. Res. 549) was introduced by Reps. Val Demings (D-FL) and Jennifer González-Colón (R-PR). Sixty-four other House members have also added their support, all Democrats.

Rubio said he arrived at the conclusion of the importance of media diversity through his countless interactions with local media outlets, including radio stations, as part of his political career. “These outlets are ingrained in our communities, offering unique and important insight,” he said. “We must continue to support small, diverse media outlets that are instrumental in preserving local culture, and serve as an invaluable resource for our communities.”

The resolution says that “an informed and engaged electorate is critical to a vibrant democracy is deeply rooted in our laws of free speech and underpins the virtues on which we established our Constitution.” In addition, “having independent, diverse, and local media that provide exposure to a broad range of viewpoints and the ability to contribute to the political debate is central to sustaining that informed engagement,” it says.

The resolution pledges Congress will work with media entities and other stakeholders to develop common-ground solutions to eliminate barriers to media diversity. And it says with increasing media experience and sophistication, it is even more important to have minority participation in local media. “In order for Americans to be informed and engaged, it is important to have access to strong and diverse media,” said Rosen. “We must make an effort to ensure that our newsrooms and media companies are reflective of America, both in terms of ideas and of media figures. This is critical now, more than ever.” She said their resolutions are designed to highlight those sentiments.

The National Association of Broadcasters says it backs the goal of the resolutions. “NAB strongly endorses media diversity efforts at both the national and local level,” Executive VP Dennis Wharton said. “It is important for management, newsrooms and boardrooms to reflect and embrace the changing demographics of America. Much progress has been made, thanks to NAB programs like the Broadcast Leadership Training program, but we recognize that more can be done.”

Lawmakers aren’t embracing any specific ideas in the resolution. And it’s worth noting that a bill to revive the Minority Tax Certificate Program to encourage stations be sold to minority groups has the support of just 11 members of the House and Senate, thanks in part to the addition of two names—Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) last week.

That effort also has broadcaster support. Wharton said in an email that the NAB believes reinstatement of the tax certificate program would bring more women and people of color into ownership ranks.