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An open letter to the Congressional Black Caucus on the assault on Black-owned radio

Charles Barron | , Betty Dopson | , Bob Law | , Michael D. North | 12/15/2012, 8:22 a.m.
An open letter to the Congressional Black Caucus on the assault on Black-owned radio

Dear Chairman Cleaver,

On May 29, 2012, Bob Law, Betty Dopson, Michael North and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, in our individual listener capacities and as representatives of a putative class of New York City listeners, led a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to prevent the transference of the broadcast license of New York's Inner City Broadcasting to YMF Media. The issue we have raised goes well beyond New York City. It has implications for Black communities nationwide.

Our concern is that the FCC is currently engaged in a practice that sanctions unfair and anti-competitive business practices that include discriminatory pricing, predatory lending and awed broadcast ratings that combine to do serious nancial harm to Black broadcasters in particular and ethnic minorities in general.

Ethnic and racial minorities are 36.3 percent of the total U.S. population but own only 7 percent of radio stations and just over 3 percent of the nation's TV stations. Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Black owners have been deliberately and systematically squeezed out of existence, due largely to the Black companies' inability to access the capital necessary to take advantage of the new levels of ownership made possible by the Telecommunications Act. In watching the decline of Black-owned media, it is important to take into account the factors that have made Black-owned radio so vulnerable.

Simply put, Black-owned radio does not get paid what it deserves based on how well it actually performs. For decades, the ad industry has used discriminatory pricing--a policy referred to as "minority discounting"--where whatever ad rate charged by the Black-owned station is automatically reduced by the agency media buyer and offered to the station on a "take it or leave" basis.

In addition, Arbitron, the radio ratings monopoly, has been charged with consistently undercounting Black audiences. In January of 2009, then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo secured a landmark agreement with Arbitron to cure defects in their radio ratings systems that threatened to drive minority broadcasters out of business. In a statement, Cuomo said that Arbitron's decision to release its unreliable and unaccredited radio ratings system was an affront to racial and ethnic minorities in New York and around the country. Cuomo further stated that Arbitron's irresponsible decision threatened the existence of diversity in radio and muzzles the viewpoints of millions of Americans.

Apparently, Arbitron did little to correct these race-based defects. In March of 2012, the state of California and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco agreed to settle a consumer protection lawsuit against the ratings company for the same ratings measurement scheme shown to discriminate against radio stations with predominately Black and Hispanic audiences. California's attorney general, along with the Los Angeles city attorney and the San Francisco city attorney, charged Arbitron with a scheme that began in 2008 and had not been corrected that violated the state's Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Unruh Civil Rights Act by dramatically undercounting minority audiences, causing sharp declines in advertising rates and revenue for many broadcasters.