Clyburn & Co. Seek Treasury Help for Minority Broadcasters - Broadcasting & Cable

Clyburn & Co. Seek Treasury Help for Minority Broadcasters

Legislators request assistance along lines of auto industry in letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner
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A Clyburn is already taking steps to help minority broadcasters.

No, not Mignon Clyburn, the South Carolina utility regulator who is the Obama administration's pick for a Democratic seat on the FCC, but her father, James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House minority whip.

The senior Clyburn has joined with a dozen other House members to ask Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for financial help for minority broadcasters similar to the help the government is giving auto dealers.

Among the suggestions are helping free up credit as Treasury did in the Auto Supplier Support Program, bridge loans or government-backed loans.

The legislators, which include Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), argue that minority broadcasters have been among the hardest hit by the economic meltdown, which they say threatens to "erase the modest inroads" minorities have made in the broadcast business.

The say they are looking for a helping hand, not a handout, and that what is at stake is more than just the bottom line.

"Like so many businesses caught in the maw of the most severe recession and contraction of credit since the Great Depression, minority broadcasters are not failing businesses looking for a free pass," they said. "[T]hey are looking for continued access to capital to continue their otherwise fundamentally sound operations. And while many jobs are at stake, a more important principle--the government's fundamental interest in promoting a diversity of voices, including service to underserved communities--is severely threatened."

They want Geithner to reply by June 5. They also sent copies of the letter to acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps as well as representatives of Fannie Mae and the FDIC.

The Obama administration has made broadcast diversity a priority of its communications agenda. That priority has been echoed by Copps, whose FCC has taken steps to improve data collection on minority ownership, essentially teeing up the issue for his successor, FCC Chairman designate Julius Genachowski, in the hope that it will be on top of his agenda as well.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Geithner,

The ongoing economic and credit crisis has had disastrous impacts throughout every sector of our financial system. Among those hardest hit are minority-owned enterprises, and in particular, minority-owned broadcasters. We write to request that you take immediate action to ensure these minority-owned entities are able to weather this financial storm and emerge as viable and thriving companies when the economy and credit market conditions stabilize.

As you are aware, it is a long-standing policy goal of the Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to promote diversity within the telecommunications marketplace, both with regard to content and ownership. For too long, the telecommunications industry has been dominated by multi-billion dollar conglomerates with considerable economic strength. Minorities are currently underserved and underrepresented in ownership of broadcast media stations. Less than seven percent of full-power radio stations today are owned by minorities, and minority television station ownership is negligible.

Like so many businesses caught in the maw of the most severe recession and contraction of credit since the Great Depression, minority broadcasters are not failing businesses looking for a free pass; they are looking for continued access to capital to continue their otherwise fundamentally sound operations. And while many jobs are at stake, a more important principle - the government's fundamental interest in promoting a diversity of voices, including service to underserved communities - is severely threatened.

Many minority broadcasters are experiencing severe financial distress. Although profits are down dramatically, business fundamentals remain sound. Despite the historically steep barriers to credit these enterprises have faced, minority ownership groups are well-operated with decades of executive broadcast management experience. In addition to the credit crisis, also weighing heavily on minority broadcasters is a significant decline in advertising revenues, particularly the loss of automobile advertising, which comprised a substantial source of revenue for minority-owned stations.

Let us be clear: It is absolutely essential that we do not allow this once-in-a-generation financial crisis to erase the modest inroads minorities have made into the broadcast industry.

To assist these firms in this time of crisis, we urge you to take bold and decisive action to support minority-owned broadcasters. One proposal we suggest you consider is the enactment of a facility similar to the Auto Supplier Support Program announced on March 19, which will help restore credit flows to the broadcast sector of the economy. Other options we suggest you consider include temporary bridge financing or government-backed loans, until the economy improves, the financial system recovers and credit begins to flow more freely again.

We respectfully request that you review these and other options to assist minority-owned broadcasters. We also would like for Treasury Department staff to meet with representatives from minority-owned broadcast entities, as well as representatives from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, so that you can be fully briefed on this urgent situation and discuss possible options to address this crisis.

We would also appreciate if members of your team could brief our staff at their earliest convenience on the Department's response to this request, but no later than Friday, June 5.

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