By Karim Camara
The research is copious and hard to refute that minority media ownership is dismally low and discrimination is prevalent and persistent in the media industry. Women and people of color who decide to make media their careers have fewer opportunities than their male or white peers. This lack of diversity and opportunity needs to change. A proposed transaction awaiting the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) approval for close to a year will significantly advance diversity and minority capacity in the media industry.
Standard General, an American hedge fund, acquiring TEGNA, an American broadcast media company, would be a massive win for people of color and women in the news industry and communities nationwide. It would be historic, creating the largest minority-owned and woman-run T.V. broadcast company in the United States led by industry veterans Soo Kim and Deb McDermott.
Unfortunately, the FCC Media Bureau rejected the chance to make real progress and recently chose to designate this transaction for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, a delay tactic designed to kill the deal. Now is the time for the Chairwoman and the FCC Commissioners to step in and call for a total Commission vote to approve this transaction immediately without further political interference and delay.
This same FCC, actively working against increasing minority media representation in this transaction, recently released a report showing that diversity in media ownership continues to lag at embarrassingly low levels. African Americans accounted for just 3% of the majority ownership interests in commercial full-power T.V. stations, while Asian Americans represented 1%.
The FCC followed the report’s release by holding a Media Ownership Diversity Symposium, where attendees discussed how to increase minority ownership in the media industry. One of the critical solutions put on the table included lowering barriers to investment and access to capital for minority owners and entrepreneurs. But if the Commission rejects this deal, how will any minority investor be able to finance any transaction in the future, knowing the FCC is not supportive of would-be minority owners?
What’s puzzling about the FCC’s recent actions is that the answer to much of the diversity challenge facing the media is the Standard General/TEGNA. This transaction would help remedy persistently low minority ownership in media and create more balanced news reporting for communities who need it. And as the country’s most significant woman-led and minority-owned media company, this transaction would instantly further the FCC’s expressed goals of increasing diversity in broadcast station ownership and management.
One of Standard General’s key public interest initiatives for the transaction will be to empower the voices of local communities. They want to partner with community journalism groups to amplify their work and the communities they represent. Furthermore, they are open to exploring new partnership models to get diverse viewpoints and perspectives on the air and ensure people have the resources to do it. We need more diversity throughout the broadcast industry, and this will be a company in a position to make an impact.
It does not take extensive research from distinguished organizations to notice the proverbial “elephant in the room”: race and gender diversity are inexcusably lacking in the media industry. A report by McKinsey (Shattering the Glass Screen, 2020) found an increase in women represented in media and entertainment companies; however, women experience a more hostile workplace than men and face a glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching top leadership roles.
Another Pew Research Center (2022) study found that diversity was lacking and that the lowest marks were in racial and ethnic diversity. The FCC has taken steps to remedy this situation, which is why it is even more bewildering that it has refused to approve the historic transaction.
The transaction, which observers say should have taken approximately a few months for regulatory review, had stalled for close to a year before the FCC decided to delay it further. Why has it been delayed and now seemingly blocked? Great question.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. According to observers, there has been a tremendous lack of transparency by the FCC. Some have compared the process to a game of “let the clock run out,” like a sports team ahead in points, anxious for the game to end so that the other team does not have a chance at victory. Enhancing minority voices is too essential to play games with and shouldn’t have to wait.
The FCC must reverse course and approve this transaction. Standard General/TEGNA will provide a tremendous victory for local news and communities of color.
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