Governmental rulings have already hurt some black newspapers and minority-owned radio stations
Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a recent guest editorial for USA Today, says a new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could limit your ability to see diverse news and entertainment programming on television.
That doesn’t mean your current hit shows like “Being Mary Jane” or “Scandal” are going anywhere. But Jackson and others are maintaining that deregulation of your cable box — called a set-top box — could result in fewer new networks or cable channels emerging to create programming for diverse audiences.
“Essentially, the FCC is proposing that small and diverse television programmers such as Revolt and Vme TV hand over their television content to third party device manufacturers without any compensation,” Jackson wrote.
“These companies could then pull networks apart, ignore copyright protections and dismantle the local and national advertising streams that have traditionally supported high quality, multicultural content. The result is a deep threat to the entire creative ecosystem, and especially smaller, independent and diverse networks and programmers that often lack the deep pocket resources to weather this type of transition.”
The FCC proposal has largely flown under the radar, with little attention being paid by consumers — many of whom already dislike their cable companies because of the high costs for service.
Cable companies pay carriage fees to cable channels like BET and Telemundo. Those costs are then passed on to consumers in their monthly cable bills. The new FCC proposal is aimed at opening up competition by allowing a broader distribution of content through various devices.
Jackson acknowledges that the move could stir more competition, but says smaller programmers focused on diverse audiences could suffer financial losses.
“Leaders of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses have voiced opposition to this proposal; to date, over 80 House Democrats have expressed opposition or serious concerns. Major civil rights organizations, such as the National Urban League and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), have asked the FCC to pause this proceeding until more empirical data detailing the impacts on diversity is released.”
“African American and Latino television programmers have also heavily weighed in, with Alfred Liggins of TV One calling it a new form of redlining that could bury diversity programming and limit diverse communities’ access to programming that reflects their values and lives.
“All of these viewpoints should concern the FCC, and it is its duty to listen,” Jackson wrote. “Recently, New York Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and more than 50 of her caucus colleagues wrote urging the FCC to shelve this idea until several independent, peer-reviewed studies of its implications on diversity can be completed. I echo her concerns and encourage the granting of her request.
“The FCC cannot be, on this issue, as woodenly unreflective as a Southern governor ignoring the community that he was supposed to serve. There is too much at stake with this decision. We’ve seen what happened with rushed governmental actions that led to the dismantling of local multicultural newspapers — especially those that were unable to quickly transition online.
“Today’s dismal number of minority-owned radio and full power television stations can be largely attributed to the hasty and ill-considered policy decisions to eliminate the minority tax certificate program, which has been credited with the transfer of hundreds of broadcast licenses to minority owners.
“Diversity on television and media still matters as much as it did in the 1960s. While new video platforms and content are being developed, the promise of this new medium will not be an immediate substitute for the current range of images and voices now available on TV. Furthermore, the market is already demonstrating its own agility to change with many new devices, streaming options and services bringing traditional television and Internet video onto our screens seamlessly.
“Before the federal government makes another mistake to set back the clock of media diversity, the FCC would be well advised to step back and listen to those who have fought this battle for equality over the decades and in other contexts.”
Keith Clinkscales, CEO of music channel Revolt, agrees with Jackson. In a February guest editorial for Variety, Clinkscales wrote:
“The FCC’s proposal is only disguised as consumer friendly, but ultimately the defense from this onslaught will drive up costs and eliminate the need for minority programming. In a world that already has a constrained cable offering due to programming costs, anything that increases those costs (including the marketing and technology costs to defeat an insurgent like Google) will knock dollars off the table, and the minority programmers will suffer more than they have.”
Not everyone agrees with Jackson and Clinkscales. TechDirt.com wrote:
“Wait, what? Because history is filled with racism means the FCC’s plan to open up the cable set top box market to competition raises concern? If you’ve actually bothered to read the FCC’s proposal (pdf), all the rules would do would require cable companies to take their existing programming — and make it available to third party hardware using the delivery methods and copy protection of the industry’s choice.
“If anything the move would result in consumers getting access to more diverse programming options than ever before, given it would eliminate the traditional cable box walled garden, and replace it with hardware that nudges consumers in the direction of an ocean of streaming content.”
No timetable has been set for a final decision by the FCC.