National Black Media Coalition
December 2, 1998
William E. Kennard
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Master Communicators Awards Luncheon
National Black Media Coalition
December 2, 1998
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues. I am truly humbled to be here today as your keynote speaker, particularly as I look in the audience and see so many folks who have been toiling in the vineyards for so long -- many without recognition or acclaim.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge the National Black Media Coalition, and congratulate its Founder and Chairman, Pluria Marshall, as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. For the last quarter century the National Black Media Coalition has been at the forefront of the struggle to create opportunity for minorities to participate in the media -- as owners and communications professionals.
This organization, through the leadership of Pluria Marshall, has pushed the envelope of progress in our industry; it has taken principled, and sometimes unpopular positions on issues; it has challenged the federal government, states and broadcasters to do the right thing, and it has persevered in the never-ending struggle to create opportunities to diversify what Americans see and hear on the airwaves.
And from those of us who have directly benefitted from such efforts, as I have, let me say, we are grateful for what you have done. No man or woman stands alone in this world. We all stand on the backs and shoulders of those who have gone before us. The National Black Media Coalition has enormously broad shoulders, and many of us have benefitted from the work that NBMC has done in convincing many in the broadcast industry that the industry and our Nation are only made better when opportunity is created for all people.
Well over one hundred years ago a visionary and one of the most significant communicators of his time, Frederick Douglass, said it best when he said:
"The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claim have been born of earnest struggle...If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
In short, the National Black Media Coalition has plowed the grounds, brought down thunder and lightning and raised the roars of Black communicators throughout this country so that collectively, we could make progress. So today, in addition to honoring the distinguished "Master Communicators," we also honor the National Black Media Coalition and Pluria Marshall for their contributions.
Until recently, African-Americans, and other people of color, were disenfranchised from mass media employment and ownership. Black journalists, technicians, and media professionals were essentially shut out of one of the most powerful industries in this country. With the very notable exception of the print medium, minorities in America were forced to see themselves through the eyes and voices of others, with little opportunity to control those images.
In a very real sense, people of color in this society were living testaments to what W.E.B. DuBois spoke about in 1903 when he said:
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others . . . one feels his two-ness -- an American, a Black; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
But we know that the images portrayed so predominantly in the media do not reflect reality. After all, most Americans, regardless of race, aspire to the same ideals. They want decent, good-paying jobs, a sound education for their children, safe communities, and an opportunity to live the American dream. Media images that distort this basic reality, particularly when they reinforce negative racial and ethnic stereotypes, do not serve the public and are offensive to all of us.
The broadcast industry is a better industry today than it was 25 years ago because of the work of NBMC and many others who have fought to create more opportunity for women and minorities. The ranks of broadcast owners, managers and executives have increased -- though not nearly enough to represent adequately the rich diversity of this great nation.
Over the last three decades, our nation and our communities have been served by men and women who have made a difference and had an impact on the media's portrayal of African- Americans and people of color. Those are the people we have come to honor here today -- the "Master Communicators" -- who have distinguished themselves in business development, journalism and community service.
"Master Communicators" such as Simeon Booker -- a dedicated and courageous journalist who in 1952 integrated The Washington Post's city reporting corps and who conducted one of the last televised interviews with Martin Luther King. Simeon was selected in 1982 for the 4th Estate Award for his many contributions to print journalism. In a city replete with monuments, Simeon Booker is a Washington institution unto himself, and one of the first people we think of when we think of Jet magazine.
"Master Communicators" such as Ernest Jackson, General Manager of KMJQ Magic 102 FM in Houston, Texas. Jackson's leadership in the Houston community and tireless efforts are seen as major factors in the recent election of Lee Brown as mayor and the defeat of the effort to repeal the affirmative action ordinance in the city.
"Master Communicators" such as Jim Watkins, General Manager of WHUR-FM and WHUT-TV in Washington. As a university-owned station that has become a strong earner and a industry success story, WHUR/WHUT owes much to Jim Watkins who, as an engineer, helped to build it and now successfully manages the stations.
"Master Communicators" such as Don Cornwell, President of Granite Broadcasting, the largest minority owner of media properties in the United States, and a real leader on broadcast ownership policy.
"Master Communicators" such as Frank Melton, President of Civic Communications and owner of three broadcast stations whose community involvement has led to the founding of a successful community program for troubled youth, and whose courage and leadership in posting pictures of known drug dealers on billboards led to many convictions and a safer community.
I must say that while we congregate today in the spirit of celebration--and there is much to celebrate -- we must also rededicate ourselves to continued struggle. In 1976 when the National Black Media Coalition was founded, African-Americans owned only 30 radio stations in the U.S. and no television stations.
Today, according to data from the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA), black owned broadcast properties number 190. While minorities own 2.9% of all broadcast stations in the U.S., there has been an overall loss of 23 owners over the past year.
One would think that in this era of unprecedented growth and prosperity in the industry, we would see more growth and prosperity among minority stations. But we are seeing fewer owners and fewer new faces or voices. Some of this is attributable to market forces where consolidation in the industry is having a particularly negative impact on minority ownership. The price of broadcast properties has risen and the access to capital for non-broadcast owners or single-station owners has proven to be a real obstacle.
But there have been other factors involved. It is no secret that the current political and judicial environment has been hostile to our efforts to increase minority ownership of media properties.
Three years ago, Congress repealed the statute which allowed companies to receive favorable tax treatment for selling broadcast properties to minority owners. The certificates assisted minority companies in acquiring 288 radio stations, 43 television stations and 31 cable companies from 1978 through 1995.
The strict scrutiny standard adopted by the Court regarding racial classifications in the Adarand decision made FCC minority preference programs more difficult to sustain, and broadcast ownership suffered as a direct result.
And most recently, the Court of Appeals decision in the Lutheran Church case invalidated some of the outreach and enforcement portions of our broadcast rules EEO.
This is not a rosy scenario. Many of you out there know from your practical experiences the difficulties minorities face in the current environment -- whether as potential owners, station managers, journalists, executives or professionals. The judicial and legislative decisions have compounded the financial barriers to ownership.
Despite what some are characterizing as a lost cause, I want to tell you that we do not believe this is the time to quit -- to throw up our hands and say, "Oh well, we tried", and then fade quietly away . Quite the contrary, this is the time to redouble our efforts -- to utilize every legal, judicial and legislative measure possible to continue the struggle for equality of opportunity and diversity in our communications industry. It is a time for creativity, earnestness, new approaches and a renewed commitment to do what it takes to continue to create opportunity in the media for minorities and women.
What frequently gets lost in this debate, is the issue of why this is important. Programming, ownership, and employment input from people of color invariably make society stronger and better as a result. Diversity should not be thought of solely as a black thing, or a Latino thing, or an Asian thing. It is an American thing, and it is the right thing to do.
When I was appointed Chairman of the FCC by President Clinton, I took seriously the President's challenge to make our government look like America. And I am proud to serve with other appointees who take the challenge of diversity seriously.
I want to tell you what we are doing at the FCC to further this effort, and I want to solicit your support and your input, your ideas and your energy. I also want to assure you that my door is open, and I invite your cooperation and collaboration as we go forward.
Creating opportunity irrespective of race and gender in the mass media industries has not always been as American as apple pie. For too many years, minorities and women have not found opportunity in these industries -- industries that profoundly affect our culture. On the bright side, in recent years there has been significant progress.
In 1971, only 6.8 percent of upper-level broadcast jobs were held by minorities, and 6.9 percent were held by women. Recent reports indicate that minorities now hold 18.2 percent of upper level jobs and women hold 34.9 percent. Government played a significant role in this progress.
Since 1969, the FCC has had rules that require broadcasters to reach out into their communities to find qualified job applicants of all genders and ethnic backgrounds. After the Court of Appeals invalidated these rules earlier this year, several industry leaders stepped forward and pledged that they would continue to follow equal employment opportunity principles regardless of whether legally required to do so. We commend those industry leaders who stepped forward. But there remains an essential role for government to play in ensuring that all industry participants will act to combat discrimination.
Two weeks ago, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to bring our EEO rules into conformity with the Court's recent decision. Why is this important? The mass media reflect our nation's culture, our ideals, and our aspirations,and is the vehicle by which the majority of Americans get the information upon which to make decisions and shape values. This especially true for children, who spend an average of five hours each day in front of a television set. The notion that a medium so important and so influential in our society should not have the fullest participation of all segments of our society is simply unacceptable.
This issue is not just about jobs for historically under-represented groups -- and the rules are not just important to minorities and women. No, the issue is whether we will ensure that the mass media reflect all of society for the benefit of all of society. We believe that these principles are the bedrock of our democratic system of government and our way of life as a free and inclusive society.
The new EEO rules that we propose will ensure that those entrusted with the responsibility to serve the public interest reach into their communities and create opportunity for talented men and women of all colors. These rules are essential to enable the Commission to combat discrimination in the marketplace. A licensee who has discriminated on the basis of someone's race, ethnicity or gender cannot demonstrate the character needed to be a public trustee.
It is one thing to witness and experience the effects of discrimination and inequality in the communications industry. It is another altogether to prove it. As I talk with a wide spectrum of the communications industry, I cannot help but notice the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in the upper ranks. In order to make the necessary headway in the courts and in the halls of Congress, it is critically important in this environment to empirically prove practices of discrimination where they exist. In those areas where we believe there is a reasonable basis to suspect discrimination, we have launched, or will launch soon, a series of studies.
These studies will examine, for example, the impact of racially discriminatory practices in radio advertising, the connection between the race and gender of station owners and the
content of the programming, the sales and transfers of broadcast and wireless licenses in the secondary market, including an examination of barriers to market entry and to firm growth.
We plan to examine the extent of utilization of minorities and women in FCC auctions, the extent to which racial and gender discrimination in capital markets has affected FCC licensees and applicants for FCC licenses, and the extent to which there has been the historical participation of minorities and women in the market for FCC licenses.
As we examine the issues of opportunity in the broadcast media, I also believe it is important for minorities to be vigilant in examining opportunities in the new media. We live in a brave new world that will be characterized increasingly by new broadband media services: wireless, cable, DBS, and the Internet.
Advances in technology are fundamentally changing the way we live. By the year 2,000 over 60 percent of all jobs in the United States will require computer knowledge and experience. In the next eight years, the U.S. will need 1.3 million new workers in information technology, and 95,000 new computer scientists, analysts and programmers, each year.
These changes signal enormous opportunities. Americans with technical skills, regardless of race or income, will have the necessary tools to succeed and compete in an information age economy. As technology takes quantum leaps forward, African Americans and people of color cannot afford to be left behind on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Communications technologies such as the Internet have the potential to level the economic playing field and close the income gap for minorities and the poor. E-commerce, or Internet-based businesses, typically have lower entry barriers in terms of capital, and have the potential to be global in scope. Increasingly, more of our traditional communications products are being carried over the Internet, as radio and television broadcasters are exploring this new medium. It is a world that minorities cannot afford to overlook as we look to the creation of new and equal opportunities.
In short, we live in a brave new world where opportunities are being discovered and fortunes are being made everyday. As those, like Pluria Marshall, who have struggled for equality of opportunity in the traditional broadcast media understand, it is important to keep our eyes on the prize. We've come too far to turn back now.