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Media Ownership: Impact on Minority Ownership and Localism

February 22, 2007

Congress has wisely mandated that the nation's media ownership rules should promote localism, competition, and diversity in the media. We’re optimistic that this hearing today will lead us to our goals. It’s essential. Because almost everything we know about ourselves, our country, and our world is dictated by media. As a democratic nation, we cannot afford to have overwhelming power in the hands of so few, leaving so many in our nation with no media, or power, of their own. I am speaking here on behalf of what we call the Invisible Majority, the women in this country who account for 51 percent of the population, yet own less than 5 percent of television stations and 6 percent of radio stations. As you might imagine, the subject of ownership is central to our concerns, especially when it comes to publicly owned airwaves, where we have a crisis in participation and representation. I serve as President of The Women’s Media Center in New York City. We are non-profit, non-partisan, advocacy organization created to make sure women participate in all media at all levels—at the top as  owners, inside as professionals, and outside as experts and informed consumers. In addition to advocating for women, we publish stories by and about women on our website at womensmediacenter.com. I have spent nearly 40 years in the media. I began my career as a reporter at roughly the time when the US Commission on Civil Rights issued its landmark 1977 report, Window Dressing on the Set. As that study found, women and minorities at the time were mere props in our media, playing no significant part on the air or in management. Thirty years later, despite gains made through early mandated steps toward inclusion, we could write a similar report today. According to various studies, women hold only 3 per cent of “clout” positions in the media (“The Glass Ceiling Persists,” Annenberg, 2003). Only a quarter of the newsrooms are led by women (Dates 2007, Cramer 2007, Nicholson 2007, Media Management Center), while women hold only a quarter of  jobs as syndicated opinion writers at our newspapers (Estrich 2005, Pollitt 2005). Women online are facing the same fate. Across all platforms, women are missing. Women of color are the most invisible of all. Certainly media consolidation plays a part in this. Since deregulation in 1996, as male owned and run companies have bonded with other male owned and run companies, women are forced to chase an ever more elusive prize. These days, it seems that no matter how high a woman rises, ever more levels of power are erected above her. According to Catalyst, women are stagnating or losing ground in mainstream media corporations—they are only 14.7 percent of directors on boards (and one major company has no women directors), fewer than 20 percent of corporate officers of the six largest entertainment conglomerates are women. As cross-ownership becomes the norm, and entertainment companies are responsible for newsrooms, the trickle down effect of exclusion asserts itself in those newsrooms, the most important connection and responsibility to the public. Nowhere is the case against consolidation stronger than in the example of what has happened in radio. We now have a situation where a single company can own thousands of radio stations—and that company’s hiring practices, editorial policies—and world view-- can tilt an entire industry—if not an entire country. For example, look at Clear Channel, a company which owns more than a thousand stations, yet has no women at all in its executive ranks or on its board. Companies like this send a chilling message that media is a boys-only club, one to which girls need not apply. This is unacceptable. Top line research is troubling enough. We know from Free Press that women own just 6 percent of radio stations—a figure that is in danger of diminishing. As troublesome as that figure is, the truly disturbing numbers are the percentages of women working for the 94 percent of companies owned and run by men: women comprise only 10 percent of general managers, only 15 percent of programmers, and only 15 percent of the on-air talent. Five of the top nine radio groups do not list any women at all in their executive suites. These figures have been compiled and analyzed by Edie Hilliard, one of radio’s legends and a member of The Women’s Media Center Advisory Council. A full copy of her 2007 report, “Radio and Women,” has been made available to you as part of my written testimony. The net result of the absence of women in management of our publicly-owned airwaves –a public good meant to serve our communities and our nation – is that the community of women is ignored.   In all but a handful of markets in the entire country, there is no talk radio programming catering to women. The result is that women are leaving radio, a medium that belongs to them as much as anyone. At The Women’s Media Center we are always amazed there isn’t a citizen revolt when they hear these statistics, so blatantly exclusionary in the year 2007. To bring this back to the question at hand: what do these numbers and trends mean as the FCC considers relaxing the rules of cross ownership? The research I’ve cited here illustrates the devastating effect that consolidation has had on the radio industry. I have no doubt that the same fate will be faced by our community television and broadcast outlets were the FCC to be allowed to lift what little protections remain to localized programming. Ownership of radio and television stations by women and minorities cannot be addressed until they are allowed to work and succeed in the industry. And when they do own companies, there have to be mechanisms to keep them from being crushed by the monoliths. We believe that until there is a full examination of the status of women in all media—including both ownership and employment—there should be a halt to any expansion of cross ownership. To-date, the FCC has not done the requisite examination of the status of women in media ownership. According to recent review from Free Press, the FCC failed to identify 75 percent of stations owned by women, calling in to question their commitment to women’s role in the media. If the FCC will not take this step, I urge Congress to do so. As the US Civil Rights Commission did in 1977, so Congress must now do in 2007. It must expose the failures of our media—and set a clear direction for us to move forward. Media companies simply have to be made accountable for the absence of women before we move forward. While FCC considerations for tax advantages for women and minority ownership is a step in the right direction, these companies will just be mowed down by the monoliths of big media. Is there any reason we can think of as a fair and democratic society that on Sunday mornings, every single host the shows that determines what is important to us is a man? Or that every single host of a late night show that gives us clever interpretations of the news is a man? Or that only 7 percent of films are directed by women? Or, to the determining point for today’s conversation, that just six companies are allowed to dominate American media, even as they receive failing grades on the inclusion of women and people of color? For the sake of our media, and our democracy which relies upon it, and on behalf of the Invisible Majority, I urge Congress to put a halt on these plans toward further consolidation.
Tags: Media

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