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NABJ Will Actively Push For FCC-Blocking Bill

The National Association of Black Journalists is backing a congressional move to nullify the FCC's decision to loosen the 30-plus-year-old ban on owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market.

"It becomes a major problem when you see that in a nation where 34% of the population are people of color, minorities own less than 10 percent of media outlets," said NABJ Vice President of Print Ernie Suggs  in a statement Thursdaycriticizing the decision.

Suggs suggested the journalists will actively push for the bill. "NABJ will reach beyond the press gallery to congressional members and ensure this vote is reversed and our freedom of speech is not sacrificed by higher profits," he said.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) pushed for passage of a bill that would have blocked the vote. It was voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee but never scheduled for a floor vote. He must now wait until the FCC's final order on the crossownership decision is published in the federal register before trying to nullify it with a "resolution of disapproval."

NABJ weighed in with a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in the fall saying loosening the ban could have an adverse impact on minority ownership and journalism.

Martin has argued that loosening the ban, rather than lifting it, is a modest step and also backed various initiatives, approved this week, that he says are intended to boost minority ownership. They include making it easier for small businesses to get financing and creating incentives for media companies to sell properties to them.

The fact that the initiatives apply to all small business has led to criticism that it will not necessarily help minorities or women. The point was made most pointedly by Democratic Commission Michael Copps, who said that "the fine print shows that the real beneficiaries will be small businesses owned by white men."

During a Hill hearing on the cross-ownership issue, at least one academic argued that loosening the ban even more than Martin did, to allow for newspaper-broadcast combinations in markets below the top 20, could boost minority owners' fortunes by allowing, say, a minority-owned small-town newspaper to combine with a radio station to improve the latter's news and increase the minority voice in the market.

But NABJ says that loosening the ban limits diverse voices and minority opportunities.