OC Inc., goes to Supreme Court to defend media diversity
As part of its 60-year-old mission in pursuit of media justice, OC Inc., the United Church of Christ media justice ministry, filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 16 to block further consolidation of radio and television stations in the United States.
The high court is hearing an appeal by the Trump administration and the broadcast industry that would permit the Federal Communications Commission to permit more local television mergers and other media combinations in local communities.
The Supreme Court is reviewing Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled that the FCC could not permit additional consolidation when it would harm ownership rates by women and people of color.
“The FCC has long decried low ownership diversity numbers but ignored facts in the record showing consolidation harms diversity by putting more television and radio stations into the hands of fewer and fewer owners,” said Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.’s policy advisor who also argued the case in Philadelphia.
“The FCC treated its obligation as less-important than high school math homework and got caught turning in work that, in the court’s words, ‘would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.'”
Leanza also said the state of ownership diversity is “abysmal.” Citing FCC data, the OC Inc., policy advisor noted that in full power television, racial minorities combined own 26 stations out of 1,376 licensed stations, Hispanics own 58 stations, and women own 73. In FM radio, racial minorities own 159 of 6,647 radio stations, Hispanics own 219, and women own 390.
“In all cases, the share owned by women and people of color is in the single digits, and in the case of most individual categories, such as Asian Americans, control is less than 1 percent,” Leanza said.
The UCC’s history in court against the FCC goes back to the earliest days of the denomination when Rev. Everett C. Parker, the UCC director of communications, founded OC Inc. He worked with local residents and church members in the 1960’s to hold television stations in the South accountable by monitoring their content and filing challenges to TV station license renewals.
In 1969, the UCC established the right of audience members—as opposed to competing stations—to file challenges at the FCC when a broadcaster did not serve its local community.
The current case, which is a collaboration among the UCC and other public interest organizations including the Prometheus Radio Project, will determine the rules for future FCC proceedings considering media ownership rules.
Oral argument is scheduled for January 19, 2021 via teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision will occur before the end of the Supreme Court’s term next June.
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