Rep. Rush Reams FCC Over Diversity

The FCC got hammered by Democrats over diversity at the June 11 House Communications Subcommittee hearing on media ownership.

While most of the raised eyebrows over FCC action or inaction came from Republican members, the lack of diversity in broadcast ownership--only four African American-owned TV stations, for example--drew outright jeers from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

Rush said one of the reasons he had joined the Communications Subcommittee was to help increase media ownership diversity. He said he had been disappointed for a number of years, but that the current state of diversity was the worst it has been in his 21 years in Congress.

He said he did not see a "vigorous commitment" from the FCC on diversity and that he was disappointed in the continual excuse-making.

FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake, a witness at the hearing, said the commission had a long-standing goal of promoting diversity, but that it was hard given the Supreme Court ruling that made it difficult to institute race-or gender-based programs.

He pointed out that the FCC had loosened its foreign ownership rules, which civil rights groups promoted as a way to increase access to capital, and he said that the FCC's tightening of JSA rules could allow more minority owned independent voices to buy stations.

Rush was not to be comforted. He said he had heard a lot of platitudes and tear-jerking but not anything getting done. As for government longstanding commitments to diversity, he seemed to echo the "how long, too long" civil rights cry in asking: "How long is longstanding?"

Rush also pressed Lake on why FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had pulled the plug on the critical needs study.

That study, which was to help determine how ownership affected diversity of voices, was pulled by the chairman following complaints, including from Republican members of the commission, that it asked inappropriate questions about news decisionmaking. Lake pointed out that the chairman had decided some questions were inappropriate and "terminated the study."

Rush suggested that was another case of the FCC not acting. He suggested the commission should have changed the study rather than simply canning it.

"Here we go again," he said, "instead of revising, you end it. It was a study that should take place and was headed in the right direction. Rush said he was so angry and upset that he had to stop talking, but didn't stop before adding that he was "absolutely totally disappointed in the FCC and their position on minority ownership."

Lake wanted to respond, but Rush's time was up and the committee needed to move on, chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said.

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.