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Editorial: Flatlining for Redlining

BET made a billionaire of Robert Johnson. Fox Sports reportedly paid several times the previous price tag for rights to air the World Cup, a sport whose popularity in the U.S. has been driven by a growing minority population. And those are just two examples of why so-called “no urban” and “no Hispanic” advertising dictates don’t make sense. Then again, neither does the discrimination such dictates expose, which is always rooted in ignorance.

We were pleased to see the advertising industry step up to the plate last week with a proposed framework for monitoring and enforcing nondiscrimination in ad placements, making them a partner with TV stations already charged with weeding out that practice.

The reality is that “minorities” are quickly becoming the majority in this country. But that is really only saying that the latest minorities to enrich and diversify the U.S. will continue to do so in numbers too big to ignore. Certainly the impact of that audience on the media is everywhere apparent, from the planned launch of Bounce TV to the growth of Telemundo and Univision to the expansion of Radio One into TV One.

The FCC in 2007 came out with its ruling that stations had to start monitoring ad contracts to make sure there was none of the redlining that has cost minority media hundreds of millions of dollars a year in potential ad revenue. That was one of the diversity initiatives proposed by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, along with his proposed media ownership changes.

The FCC requires broadcasters at license renewal time to certify that their ad sales contracts are nondiscriminatory and do not include any clauses that have the effect of discouraging minorities from patronizing an advertiser’s venue or presume that minorities are not a market for their product.

With some prodding from the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, which recommended many of the FCC’s diversity initiatives, the commission last March put an exclamation point on that ruling by advising stations that they could lose their license for any contracts that did not preclude discrimination.

But it takes two to tango, and the FCC’s ruling applied only to TV stations, not the advertisers and agencies that control the purse strings.

As of last week, the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Media Policy Committee sent out the word that it was adopting a nondiscrimination policy for media vendors, calling it a historic moment. But it will only make history if that recommendation becomes part of the DNA—and written policies and training manuals—of ad agencies.

“We want to make sure all members have the same information to work with and continue to expand their outreach, including but not limited to proper training, education and internal guidelines that provide a forum for open discussions,” said Bill Koenigsberg, president/CEO of Horizon Media and chairman of the Media Policy Committee. “Access to all makes for better advertising,” Koenigsberg added, we hope elucidating the obvious.

The 4As officially put its stake in the ground, but it will now be up to its members, with the help of TV stations, cable operators and others, to hammer it home.