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Rainbow, Others PUSH Hard for Diversity Task Force

Minority advocates are ramping up the pressure on Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to form an independent minority task force to deal with what they called a "media-diversity crisis," saying the FCC has a "credibility deficit" on the issue.

Among the 21 groups urging the move are the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Urban League and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Rainbow/PUSH leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson has on several occasions asked the chairman to form the task force, offering to participate. While Martin has said that he would welcome input, with Jackson's inclusion adding additional weight to any such panel, he has not said that the FCC would create one or that he would delay acting on revised media-ownership rules.

Martin's signal to the other commissioners of a possible timetable for reaching a vote by the end of the year on revised media-ownership rules prompted a backlash of criticism and calls for dealing separately with minority ownership and access issues, among others, before any such vote.

The FCC is under standing orders to better explain the rules it has or wants to change and to jettison or modify others. That comes from both a federal court and Congress.

"We appreciate that you are open to the idea of creating a task force to thoroughly study the policy goal of promoting minority ownership of broadcast stations, "the groups wrote in a letter to the chairman -- a copy of which was supplied to B&C -- “but we are alarmed by recent reports indicating that you will not wait until the work of such a task force is completed before issuing new rules that may permit further media consolidation. This is not acceptable.”

The letter continued, "An uninformed rush to eliminate ownership limits may set back the expansion of minority ownership by a generation and leave us little recourse. The legacy of race and gender discrimination in the broadcast industry is a disgraceful reality in America today. It is not a problem that will be solved quickly or easily."

Martin's timetable is still on track. According to sources, it called for an Oct. 31 hearing on broadcast localism, which was held, and a final media-ownership public hearing in Seattle, which was scheduled for this Friday. Then, the chairman was to have released his views on new rule revises Nov. 13, allowing for four weeks of comment and a Dec. 18 vote.

Hill and commission Democrats have called for the FCC to slow down, and a hearing has been scheduled for this week in the Senate on media-ownership issues.