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Crisis in civil & women’s rights

cbyerlys Icon Posted by Carolyn Byerly

November 9th, 2007

On October 31, I was among those who gave 2 minutes worth of testimony before the Federal Communications Commission in the commission’s fifth hearing on localism. The principle of localism — i.e., the requirement to serve the “public interest, convenience and necessity” — was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and has survived through the years as a criterion for broadcast licensing.

My testimony:
Good morning. My name is Dr. Carolyn Byerly. I am a member of the communications faculty at Howard University. I conduct research on women and minority ownership, and on the ethnic minority news audience, among other things.

Our nation has before it both a civil rights and women’s rights crisis in media ownership. Our failed federal communications policy has enabled those with great wealth and power to buy and control more than 90% of our public airwaves. These powerful owners have a narrow demographic: They are nearly all male and all white. This predicament of gender and racial inequality in ownership is discriminatory on its face.

Let me share with you some of the effects at the local level.

In research we conducted in Washington DC neighborhoods last year, we found that:
• Residents believe local television news ignores things they need most to know about –these things include neighborhood redevelopment, lack of jobs, lack of healthcare, and public safety. They said reporters only come into their neighborhoods when there’s a crisis, and the reporters don’t understand their issues or know their leaders.
• We also found that Black radio listeners prefer African-American owned stations – they said these stations “know what’s going on,” and “tell me the truth.”

My current research on women broadcast owners is still underway but two early findings are worth sharing:
• First, women owners emphasize that they are committed to providing local news. Thus, we conclude women’s ownership fulfills an essential local public interest.
• Second, women owners say they strive to hire and mentor other women. We conclude that preserving women’s ownership is vital to giving other women an entrée into the industry.

The Commission has the power and the responsibility to address the survival and growth of women’s and minorities’ ownership in the broadcast industries through its policy making.

I urge you not to further deregulate an already flawed, deeply undemocratic concentrated market.

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