Because we live in an increasingly divisive world, it is more important than ever before to disagree agreeably. That is the only way to achieve the best solutions. Unfortunately, when it comes to President Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission, disagreements over policy have turned personal and political, far removed from disagreements over public policy.
Claims that Gigi Sohn would “actively deter minority media ownership” are fundamentally false. I have worked with Gigi for many years and she has been a champion for diversity in media ownership and tech before, during and after that time, including as a top adviser to chairman Tom Wheeler. She also worked long and hard with me and within the Federal Communications Commission to address the outrageous and excessive prison phone rates that regularly harm so many communities of color.
I am not alone in my support for Gigi. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights led a coalition of some 25 civil rights and civil liberties organizations in a joint letter saying that “throughout her career, Ms. Sohn has dedicated herself to the public interest.” The groups pointed to her long-time “advocacy for policies that promote diversity and competition.”
“She will establish a collaborative process and dialogue with the civil rights community, as well as consult with the community members who are often left out of commission deliberations,” they said, and they also recognize that she would make history as the FCC’s first openly LGBTQ commissioner.
Gigi’s support of strong policies prohibiting discrimination by internet services providers should be praised, and not belittled. Her opposition to media and telecommunications consolidation and any evasion of media ownership rules that provide fewer, not more, opportunities for minority ownership should be commended, and not ridiculed. It defies reason that Gigi’s support of competition and greater entry into the media and telecommunications industry by those traditionally shut out would be labeled as “anti-business.” Throughout her entire career, Gigi has helped underrepresented voices in industry gain access to communications platforms, be they broadcasting, cable or the internet. This isn’t “anti-business,” it’s pro-competition, pro-inclusion, and pro-opportunity.
Often overlooked is Gigi’s leadership in hiring and promoting people of color into the field of communications policy. When she left Public Knowledge in 2013, nearly one-third of the staff were people of color. She brought two of those people to the Federal Communications Commission and another staffer of color is now the successful CEO of Public Knowledge. I expect that if confirmed, her staff at the FCC will be similarly diverse.
Have Gigi and I agreed on every issue? The answer is a thunderous no. But like you, I pick my friends and stay loyal to my family not because we see eye to eye on every single issue, but because we believe in many of the same things.
The Multicultural Media and Telecom and Internet Council said it best: “Gigi is a leading public advocate for open, affordable and democratic communications networks” and the Senate should confirm her without delay.
And on that, we should all agree.
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Mignon Clyburn is a former commissioner and acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission and a senior adviser to the Streaming Innovation Alliance.