Minority Broadcasters Try Direct Appeal to Geithner, Ask for Industry Help

Key legislators also ask treasury secretary to consider financial backing

Fourteen minority broadcasters have sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asking for help for their industry, which they argue is in danger of extinction.

That direct appeal for help followed a letter to the secretary from some key legislators including Majority Whip (and father of FCC commission nominee Mignon Clyburn) Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), and Democratic Reps. Barney Frank (MA) and Charlie Rangel (NY) asking Geithner to "pay attention" to the plight of minority broadcasters. That includes considering help to free up credit and financing government-backed bridge loans, similar to steps taken to help the ailing auto industry.

Helping the auto industry would help broadcasters by extension since, for many, the biggest category of local ad dollars is from car dealerships. But the broadcasters are looking for some direct assistance as well.

In the letter adding their voices to that of the legislators, representatives of Entravision, Inner City Broadcasting, and a dozen others, including National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters James Winston, outlined a stark scenario.

"Unlike the auto business, broadcasting has been healthy for many years and, upon a recovery, could shortly be restored to a path of growth with some temporary assistance," they wrote. "Given the global credit crisis, plummeting ad revenues, no-minority dictates by advertisers, and changes in Arbitron audience measurement, which have further deflated ad pricing, the short-term financial outlook for our broadcasting companies is not good. Many of us are now, or will soon be, weathering significant defaults of our credit facilities. Ironically, the loss of automobile advertising revenues, a substantial source of revenue for broadcast stations, is also weighing heavily on our businesses."

Without that help, they warned, minority ownership, already only in the low single digits as a percentage of all owners could sink even lower. "What will happen to the communities we serve," they asked, "if this once in a lifetime financial crisis completely severs our access to capital and we lose our stations?"

While they said they were not "diminish[ing] the worthiness" of other bailout beneficiaries, they also said it would be "unconscionable to have financial institutions that have accepted billions of federal government assistance foreclose on these vital American voices," voices they pointed out were the "the primary source of news and entertainment for millions of minority communities."

The FCC is currently collecting data on the number of minority owners. The broadcasters' letter suggests that unless the government steps in that collecting process should be relatively easy since there won't be very many to count.