Civil-Rights Groups Slam Martin Over a la Carte


Various civil-rights groups including the Black Leadership Forum and the Hispanic Federation have asked Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin for a public apology, saying comments attributed to him about their opposition to his a la carte cable proposal were "patronizing and insulting."

According to the groups, which wrote Martin a letter Wednesday, the chairman told a media forum audience last week that major civil-rights organizations were opposed to his proposal due to "financial relationships that some may have with television programmers and distributors." (The quote is from the letter, not Martin.) An FCC spokesperson was assessing the letter at press time, but Martin was a keynote speaker at the Media and Values conference there Aug. 13-15.

The groups countered that they oppose mandating per-channel cable offerings because that would be "deeply harmful to the cause of greater diversity in cable-television programming -- a goal that we hope you would share," they told Martin.

They argued that their opposition is indeed about financial relationships, but instead about the relationships that won't be made because an a la carte regime would make it tougher for African Americans, Hispanics and women to raise enough capital to get new programming on the air. "The idea that you somehow know better about what is in [their] best interests is puzzling to say the least," the groups added.

The groups said plenty of other organizations seek financial support from a wide variety of sources. "You have never publicly questioned this widespread practice with respect to other organizations," they charged, saying that they are "shocked" at being singled out.

Martin continues to push for a la carte as a way to lower cable bills and to give parents more control over the TV set in a landscape he recently indicated was a vaster wasteland than originally described by former FCC chairman Newton Minow in 1961.

Signing the letter were the heads of the Black Leadership Forum, the Hispanic Federation, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Congress of Black Women and the Hispanic Telecommunications and Technology Partnership.