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Photo: Media 2070
The FCC has long played a role in what gets represented in American media. Photo: Media 2070

It’s long overdue to call out the FCC for its history of racism

A number of Congressional reps joined Media 2070 in calling out the independent governmental agency for perpetuating a lack of representation.

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On Wednesday, June 29, Media 2070, and Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Yvette Clarke, and Brenda Lawrence delivered a joint letter to Acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, urging the agency to investigate its history of racism, and review how its policy choices have harmed Black people and other communities of color. 

The FCC is an independent governmental agency that regulates the nation’s communications through radio, TV, wire, satellite and cable. 

Citing President Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order on racial equity, the letter recommends that the FCC recognize the role it plays in creating and perpetuating systemic inequities that deliberately exclude people of color from opportunities to own media. 

Media 2070, an initiative established by the Black caucus of the nonpartisan organization Free Press, has called for media reparations for the Black community and the FCC letter is part of its efforts. 

Earlier in June, the group delivered a petition to 3,000 newsrooms across the country, insisting that news outlets take steps to dismantle anti-Blackness in the media, place more trust and confidence in Black journalists, and care for Black communities. 

In the letter, first obtained by The Associated Press, Bowman, Clarke and Lawrence, along with leaders from Media 2070, suggested the FCC should evaluate itself to “address and redress” the harm that its policies and programs have caused Black and Brown communities. 

The letter also suggests the agency identify and put into action “affirmative steps” that will work to break down barriers currently causing injustice within the media and telecommunications industry. 

In total, 25 members of Congress signed the letter, including Reps. Karen Bass, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. 

The issues of diversity, inclusion and representation have long been concerns among media experts and advocates who argue that racism permeates every industry, and the media is no exception. 

Specifically, the racism faced by people of color in the industry today is partly a result of historically exclusionary policies and regulations that made it difficult for Black Americans and others to manage and shape news coverage. 

“Although many journalists and artists of color have used their talent to ensure critical stories about their communities are being told, our nation’s big media companies nevertheless continue to stereotypically depict people of color as being a threat or a burden to society,” the lawmakers wrote.

Biden’s racial equity order directed executive agencies to directly address how their policies have inflicted damage on communities of color. It also “strongly encouraged” independent agencies, which would include the FCC, to conduct an assessment as well.

Currently, people of color own and control only 6% of the nation’s full-power TV stations, 7% of commercial FM stations, and just 12% of commercial AM stations, despite making up more than 40% of the U.S. population. 

Rep. Bowman is advocating for an extensive racial equity audit of the FCC, saying that the dismantling of systemic racism is an office priority. 

“Media controls our narrative and controls our consciousness and if people of color aren’t owning those spaces and are strategically and just purposely excluded from those spaces, we have to do something about that,” Bowman wrote. 

A report released by the FCC in 2011 revealed that broadcast owners of color and advocates mainly attribute low minority broadcast ownership to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which relaxed local broadcast ownership rules and increased consolidation in broadcast media. 

The report also cited several studies showing that mainstream media platforms are not adequately covering the stories of Black Americans and other communities of color. 

For instance, the famous Kerner Commission report of 1968, commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson, found that the white-dominated media outlets failed to cover the 1967 uprisings in Detroit and elsewhere from the Black American perspective in an accurate and nuanced manner. 

“By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their Black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world,” the 1968 Kerner Commission report stated.

Fifty years later, American media organizations still struggle with a lack of newsroom diversity and media ownership. 

Congresswoman Lawrence said she has previously spoken with the FCC about representation and feels hopeful the agency will conduct an audit. 

“President Biden made that commitment that he is going to really strive to have racial equality, and that includes the FCC because we know some of the policies have been more roadblocks and barriers, instead of being inclusive,” Lawrence said.

Media 2070 leaders said the intention of the joint letter is not only to urge the FCC to address its history and shift the public conversation, but also to outline tangible steps to repair the harm, which includes fixing media consolidation and distributing financial resources to Black-owned platforms. 

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