FCC Chairman William Kennard last week advocated government-sponsored initiatives that would increase ownership of communications properties by minorities and women.
Joined by Commissioners Susan Ness and Gloria Tristani, he recommended four steps be taken:
Congress should reinstate tax breaks for companies selling to minorities or women Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to reintroduce tax-certificate legislation next year. McCain, with help from FCC Commissioner Michael Powell, introduced such a tax bill in this session of Congress, but the Senate Commerce Committee didn't hold hearings on it.
Congress and the FCC should identify funding mechanisms that help minorities and women build broadcasting or wireless businesses and "determine how we can make them better."
The commission should form partnerships with industry and public-interest advocates to promote opportunities for small and women- and minority-owned businesses.
The FCC should take another look at how it defines minority ownership. "A more accurate ownership measure than the current one would decrease the likelihood of minorities' being used as 'straw' participants without real opportunities for ownership," Kennard explained.
Both Commissioners Ness and Tristani expressed their concern that nothing has changed in terms of bringing more minorities and women into the telecommunications arena.
"The anecdotal evidence suggests that the numbers have not risen," Ness said. "In fact, they may have decreased." She also nlted that two of the largest media organizations in the country-the National Cable Television Association and the Newspaper Association of America-have no female board members.
Said Tristani, "Access to the airwaves by minorities and women has become, if anything, more difficult."
At a half-day FCC session on the topic last week, the three Democratic commissioners were presented summaries of five studies that examined "market-entry barriers" for small telecommunications companies. During Kennard's chairmanship, the FCC has emphasized fighting for the rights of the less advantaged in radio- and TV-station ownership and getting them in on the benefits of the new information-based economy.
The FCC requested the studies in response to sections of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that direct the commission to "identify and eliminate market-entry barriers" and require the commission to increase "opportunities in the allocation of spectrum-based services for small businesses and businesses owned by women and minorities."
In working to encourage minority and female participation in broadcast- and wireless-company ownership, the FCC also must consider various rulings by the Supreme Court that specify what government's role can be. While remedies considered by federal agencies must be "narrowly tailored" and "specific," said Prof. Allen Hammond, of Santa Clara University, the Supreme Court has found that the government has a "substantial interest" in promoting minorities in broadcasting.
"The theme question is, 'Does the FCC's licensing processes help or hinder women and minorities when they are applying for licenses?'" said Sharon Bradford Franklin, special counsel in the FCC's office of the general counsel.
The study by Hammond and Prof. Laurie Mason found that minority-owned radio stations are more likely to offer minority-focused programming than minority-owned TV stations. Authors of the study said they had a hard time locating minority-owned TV stations but eventually talked to executives at 21 such stations.
This is the case, Hammond and Mason speculated, because, even with consolidation, there are still many more independently owned radio stations than TVs. The large majority of non-network-owned TV stations are affiliated with a major TV network. The studies also found that minorities did not necessarily fare better in FCC auctions, but sometimes did if disputes over results went to hearings.