MMTC’s Honig weighs in on minority ownership


David HonigThe FCC’s newly released figures on minority ownership only confirmed what was already known, according to Minority Media and Telecommunications Council leader David Honig. He also believes the FCC should be doing something about the very poor numbers – but also notes that relaxing cross-ownership rules won’t make a difference one way or the other.

Honig noted that minorities make up 36% of the US population, but hold only 5.1% of all commercial full power TVs and 8.0% of all full power radio stations.

He added that the numbers are even worse than they look, because many of the minority-owned stations suffer from being on the low end of the full-power wattage spectrum, or are placed disadvantageously on outer suburban communities and lack full market coverage.

He said taking asset value into account, the true percentage of minority ownership is really more like 1%.

And he said its time for the FCC to do something about it, including taking action on some or all of the 47 rule changes that MMTC and partner organizations have submitted.

However, he said that as a brokerage working to get broadcast licenses into the hands of minorities, his organization has never been involved in a transaction that involved cross-ownership, for any number of reasons. He said he supports the rule change if it will help newspapers prosper, warning only that the rules be written carefully so they do not inadvertently allow further erosion of minority ownership levels.

There are several factors inhibiting the growth of minority ownership, though, which Honig enumerated: “Access to capital.  Advertisers’ ‘no urban’ and ‘no Spanish’ instructions to ad agencies not to place ads on stations targeting customers they don’t want patronizing their stores.  Employment discrimination.  Sampling deficiencies in radio ratings.  The recession coupled with the 20:1 racial wealth gap.  The loss of the 1978 Tax Certificate Policy that quintupled minority ownership until Congress repealed it in 1995.  And the FCC’s failure to consider nearly four dozen proposed remedial measures.”

Honig concluded, “We know what can happen when the FCC ignores threats to minority ownership. In the 1970s, the nation had 42 minority owned cable systems. Today, thanks to FCC indifference, only two small systems remain.  Will the FCC’s sitting on its hands also doom minority TV and radio ownership? Hopefully, in its forthcoming decision on media ownership rules, the FCC will take aggressive steps to save, and grow, the remaining footholds of minority owners in broadcasting.”

RBR-TVBR observation: MMTC has always taken a very realistic approach to achieving its goals. As a prime example, the courts have made overt affirmative action very difficult for the government – and MMTC takes that squarely into account when it suggests changing rules to increase diversity of ownership.

Such is the case with cross-ownership – we had thought that both the newspapers and broadcast properties impacted by the rules were in the non-minority categories to begin with, so combining them would have no impact on ownership diversity.

The fact that MMTC goes a step further and recommends loosening cross-ownership restrictions in an effort to aid the survival of the newspaper is commendable.

We hope the FCC will reciprocate and start putting some of MMTC’s recommendations on the books – and we hope further that Congress will put the minority tax certificate back on the books.