ColorLines testifies at FCC

ColorLines executive editor Tram Nguyen explains the importance of diversifying media ownership.

By Tram Nguyen Nov 15, 2006

Thank you for the chance to address this hearing. I represent a magazine, ColorLines, that was started 10 years ago by a multiracial group of community activists here in Oakland. Today it is a national, bimonthly, award-winning publication about race, politics and culture. We reach an audience of journalists, policy advocates, educators, and community organizations across the country.

I want to talk about why ownership is important. For us, as journalists of color coming from marginalized communities, it’s about having the means to tell our own stories. It’s about having a forum to share ideas, and a place to learn about each other and find the information and inspiration to make change for the better in our communities. I think that’s the essence of public journalism’s mission — to help us answer the questions of how do we look at our community? How do we understand our society? And what do we do about it?

90% of black households nationwide are not served by black owned media outlets; in the Bay Area, 99% of newspapers are owned by a single corporation, Media News; Telemundo, a broadcast outlet serving the Latino community is owned by ABC (Disney), which recently downsized it’s Bay Area staff, cut Bay Area local news and replaced it with a canned news feed out of Texas. The rules that are being considered right now would lift ownership and cross-ownership caps within regions. The national cap has already been lifted in 2003. What happened after the 1996 Telecommunications Act when national ownership limits were lifted was that Clear Channel bought out hundreds of stations from black and Latino single station owners, reducing the numbers of people of color owner stations more than ever. That trend will only increase if regional ownership limits are lifted.

You’ve probably already heard this, that only about 3% of TV stations are owned by people of color. Meanwhile, people of color are 33% of the population in the U.S. and growing. Here in California, we are already the majority — 56%. Across the board, our communities face issues of racial and economic inequity that are rarely if ever covered by the media. Affordable housing and healthcare, quality public education, meaningful employment. These are the needs and concerns facing communities of color. Yet–back to the issue of media ownership and coverage–one of the few visible and consistent ways that race makes it onto primetime TV is on a reality show.

Although civil rights and fairness are values held by many, there are few avenues toward common ground and common language to speak to these values. There are few outlets to hear voices and stories from the bottom up in our society, and this is greatly to the detriment of the public good.

For a recent example just look at two major stories about people of color from over the last year — immigration and Katrina. Immigrants have been compared by some immigration restrictionists to "livestock" at the border, to criminals and terrorists. Black residents of New Orleans were portrayed as looters. Two weeks after the hurricane, only 12% of whites accepted that race was a factor in the slow response, according to a CNN poll, while five times more Blacks believed it did. My point is that as a society we have distorted and fragmented understandings of what is going on in our country — and sometimes no public understanding at all of what is happening in the communities that are treated as disposable.

That’s why we’re calling on the FCC to stop the corporate consolidation of media ownership. Diversifying ownership is the first step to reflecting the reality of a country with growing numbers of people of color and widening racial and economic gaps.