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FCC Urged To Address 'Bleak' State of Industry

Media consolidation has shut out new entrants to the communications market by raising the cost of owning broadcast entities and sending minority ownership in a tailspin, Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps acknowledged at the agency’s historic hearings held in New York City July 29 and July 30.

“The tsunami of media consolidation this country has been going through has been bad, very bad, for minority and female-ownership [of media],” said Copps, citing recent data that puts ownership level by minorities of 3% of television and only over 7% of radio stations.

The two-day back-to-back sessions touched on minority media ownership and on public safety communications, and were held in Harlem and Brooklyn, respectively.

The forum on minority media ownership featured a mixed group of Hispanic, African-American and women radio and TV owners, who asked a group of FCC officials, including chairman Kevin Martin, to address what some of them called the “bleak state of minority ownership.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, the FCC heard testimony from media owners and financial experts about the challenges and opportunities facing women and minorities in gaining access to capital necessary to diversity media ownership, content and employment.

Raúl Alarcón, the CEO of Spanish Broadcasting System, took the podium to briefly state what he said is the single most important thing for minority-owned media properties such as his: “I urge you to undertake whatever steps necessary to bring back the tax certificate,” he told the FCC.

“That would be the one critical object. But bring back a healthy one, not a diluted one; one that brings minorities to own broadcast stations.” Alarcón was referring to the tax policy eliminated in 1995 that used the market-based incentive of deferral of capital gains to encourage owners of broadcast and cable properties to sell them to minorities. These certificates were also issued to investors who provided start-up capital of minority-controlled companies. “Our company started 25 years ago here in New York City, and what made that possible was the tax certificate.”

On this topic, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein acknowledged that since 1978 there has been no increase in minority ownership [of broadcast stations] and in fact “we have seen a drop of 70% of African-American-owned stations only,” he said. He did not elaborate though on specific plans as to how the FCC plans to address the issue.

For her part Mayela Rosales, owner of WTPH Channel 14 in Ft. Myers/Naples, addressed the FCC requesting “must-carry status” for low power TV stations as a way to secure their continuing operations and much needed revenue. Adding that low power TV stations have been treated as ‘second class citizens’ Rosales, whose network is an affiliate of Azteca America, also took aim at media consolidation. “Too much of today’s programming is controlled by a handful of huge media conglomerates,” said Rosales.

The back-to-back sessions were held in Harlem on minority media ownership and in Brooklyn on public safety communications and were made available in their entirety on HITN-TV video platform.