Makin Sure All the people Own the Media

root - Posted on 07 May 2007

Local community in Oakland questions two FCC Commissoners about big media, stereotyping and lack of diversity in the media

by Rania Ahmed/Race Poverty and Media Justice Intern at POOR Magazine

I rushed up the escalator in the Oakland Convention
Center to make my way up to the Calvin Simmons
Ballroom. The click-clack of my kitten heel shoes
seemed to echo throughout the lobby. I hopped off the escalator only to be blinded by studio lights. Network
news cameras were set up on tripods with reporters
standing by ready to pounce on anyone who walks out of
the ballroom where the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) hearing was being held. As I started
walking towards the doors to the ballroom I caught a
glimpse of the peacock microphone and there was
Michael Copps doing an interview for NBC.

I tried to discretely walk in without being noticed. I
entered the room only to be astounded by the amount of
people who showed up to voice their concerns regarding
media consolidation. I did not do an actual head count
but there looked to be over three-hundred people in
the room and more kept walking in. Media consolidation
is a big concern to residents of the community. When
corporations buy media outlets in vast proportions
they have complete control over what will air. This
blocks media diversity, encourages stereotyping, and
limits information. I was there as one of four media justice interns to re-port and Sup-port for POOR Magazine/PoorNewsnetwork

Sponsored by the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Media Alliance,
Youth Media Council, and Free Press, the Oakland FCC hearing featured FCC commissioners Michael Copps and
Jonathan Adlestein as well as prominent members of the
community including Allen Hammond a law professor from
Santa Clara University School of Law and Karen Slade a
Vice President of a Black owned and operated radio
station (KJLH). This was an opportunity for members of
the community to address the commissioners with the
intent that Copps and Adlestein will go back to
Washington with these concerns and inform their
colleagues. Being the only Democrats on the five
person panel makes it more difficult for them to
attend to the community's interests successfully.
Commissioner Adlestein was quite frank in saying, "In
recent years, I am sad to say, the FCC has failed to
protect your interests."

The FCC has indeed failed to recognize and protect the
public's interest. In 2003, the FCC voted to make it
easier for companies to own multiple forms of media in
a single region. In 2004 a federal court ordered the
FCC to reconsider the policy. There will be several
hearings like the one in Oakland held across the
nation to review current FCC ownership policies. Big
Media is the result of the FCC's lax rules concerning
corporations that purchase media outlets in bulk.

"We forgot about the importance of music and news,"
said Adlestein. With the concentration of media
outlets, local artists do not get a decent amount of
airplay making it tougher on them to get their music
heard. With media consolidation, news stations do not
cover issues of importance to communities of color.

People of color own less than 3 percent of media
outlets. Michael Copps declared, "Now is the time to
assert our ownership rights." He also proposed,
"Airwaves of by and for the American people." Both
Copps and Adlestein, the only commissioners to vote
against the recent renovation of the FCC ownership
policies, made the crowd of concerned community
members feel like their opinions mattered. But how
much do they matter if only two out of the five
commissioners were present at this hearing?

"Tonight in and of itself is not going to change one
damn thing," said Jeff Perstein executive director of
Media Alliance. "It's crucial that we raise our
voices, it's crucial that we organize beyond this.and
figuring out what the next steps are is really the
crucial piece."

Many community members voiced their concern over
racist and stereotypical portrayals of people of color
in the media. Dr. Julianne Malveaux an economist and
President and CEO of Last Word Productions addressed
the issue of the negative portrayal of African
American women in the media. She brought up the
infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction
to prove that there are rampant double standards
present in FCC policies. "When Rush Limbaugh and Neal
Boortz have described African American women in most
graphic of terms.there were no fines incurred.When MTV
has black women with leashes there are no fines
incurred.I need to understand why it's okay for
Limbaugh, Boortz and these other hate mongers to put
their hate speech out but when someone's
inadvertently shown you have all of this craziness,"
said Dr. Malveaux.

Jen Soriano, program director for Youth Media Council
moved to the Bay Area after the 1996
Telecommunications Act. The 1996 Telecommunications
act led most independent media to be bought up by
corporations. The act was intended to enable
competition but instead created major media
consolidation. Soriano was shocked by the Bay Area
media. "I found a mass media system that was more a
reflection of anywhere, any town USA, instead of the
Bay Area and the reality of the strong immigrant
communities, the strong African American communities
that have been here for generations and the majority
minority culture," said Soriano.

Peter B. Collins, a radio talk show host and officer
of the American Federation of Television and Radio
Artists, appealed to the commissioners to cut off
media consolidation. "It only serves the interests of
a few big corporations.their power to limit coverage
of descending voices to dumb down our culture in
political conversations to deliver the very highest
quality mindless dribble on every available channel.
This power is quite evident today far greater than it
was ten years ago," said Collins. Collins also
stressed that reduced competition on the airwaves has
truncated localism and diversity of voices. Local
media is not being preserved by the current FCC

Clifford Goler an actor/model and producer from
Oakland talked about the stereotyping of people of
color in the media. When he was modeling he would
always be booked for alcohol ads and when he inquired
why, he was usually told, "That's how it is." Goler is
concerned for the children and how they are effected
by the media. "As a kid I could watch Larry Bird or
Dr. J and go home and want to be like them...That got
me in college because I wanted to be like them. Now
these kids have nothing to dream about."

Leslie Ruiz, with the Youth Media Council told the
commissioners that everyone is despondent with the
violent attacks by the media on the community. "It's
obvious what the people want and if you guys aren't
meeting our interests than what are you doing? Isn't
that your job?" asked Ruiz.

Glancing over at the commissioners displayed on the
platform in front of the full room, I noticed they
looked a bit distressed. Were they overwhelmed by the
amount of discrepancies between their commission and
the local communities? It had only been a couple of
hours since the start of the hearing and there was no
end in sight.

Commissioner Copps said that concerned citizens can
make a difference. The turnout for the Oakland hearing
showed that there are plenty of concerned citizens. It
is up to the commissioners to relay the community's
voices back to Washington. One thing was certainly
accomplished at the hearing and that was that
community members attempted to make a change. Dr.
Malveaux said, "No one's speaking up.if we do not
speak up for ourselves, we're saying it's okay. And
you know's not okay."

After a few hours, the room began to vacant and the
lines of people at the two microphones on either side
of the ballroom began to shorten. Exhausted from
sitting for four hours I decided it was time for me to
go. I walked out of the ballroom and found the
television cameras gone. A group of young adults were
huddled in the corner occupying the remaining chairs
in the lobby.

On my way down the escalator I spotted
one of the young men who spoke earlier about the
negative portrayal of people of color on the media.
"You know," he said to another young man standing
beside him, "that meeting had me riled up. To see
people coming together, uniting to show them that we
won't stand around and do nothing about it made me
feel like we took a stand today."


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