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FCC Commissioners Discuss Diversity

Four of the Federal Communications Commission's five members weighed in on the issue of media diversity Monday. All agreed that more needed to be done, but they split along party lines, or at least ideological lines, over how empty of full the glass was.

Commissioner Michael Copps didn't seem to think there was much water in the glass at all, saying that the FCC lacked the commitment to do something about a fundamental national problem of lack of diversity in media ownership and employment.

He added that the FCC had been frightened by the courts into a position of not wanting to do anything for fear that it would be overturned. Instead, he said, it should have been finding creative ways to stake out a middle ground.

Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, who was in the glass-half-full camp, agreed that the commission had been "nibbling around the edges" of the Adarand decision, the Supreme Court ruling that restricted government set-asides for minority businesses.

But he said that was the understandable caution of those who were concerned about taking action that could be knocked down, setting up false hopes and winding up a step behind instead of ahead.

But McDowell said the small steps the FCC had taken -- including adopting a number of diversity initiatives and putting out others for comment -- were steps in the right direction. McDowell said he favors helping minorities get more deals done it a tough economy and he hoped some deals would come out of an "access to capital" hearing the FCC is holding next week in New York.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said much more needed to be done, but he also said this FCC had made strides, including banning discrimination in advertising contracts. Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate -- who got a shout-out from the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council for a record of advocating for minority issues -- said she also liked to look at the positive, while pointing out that as the only woman on the commission, the issue was near to her heart.

The commissioners and conference officials both cited a Radio-Television News Directors Association study that found minorities still underrepresented as broadcasting owners and virtually nonexistent in cable-system ownership.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.