Cedric Richmond, former U.S. Representative (LA-2), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and senior advisor to President Joe Biden, and former director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, has become the latest voice of Black America to appeal to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for racial diversity in media ownership.
In an opinion-editorial published in the Baltimore Sun, Richmond exhorted the FCC not to “cave to special interests who have sought to pit minority groups against each other in an effort to block one of the biggest opportunities in history to advance media ownership diversity in our country.”
Richmond was referring to Standard General’s acquisition of media company TEGNA, a deal widely viewed as a major opportunity to instantly enhance minority media ownership and transform local newsrooms by bringing a level of new and racially diverse media faces and voices into them like never before seen or heard across America. “It’s an exciting opportunity. But rather than celebrating this thrilling moment, deal critics have resorted to the ugliest of rhetoric,” Richmond pointed out.
The FCC has given Standard General no feedback or provided any reasons for not taking a vote, and it appears to be running out the clock on the deal, for which Richmond exhorts the commission to clarify any “substantive grounds for rejecting” the acquisition or “act and change its course.”
In his appeal, Richmond joined a distinguished line up of civil rights leaders, activists, and media professionals supporting the acquisition. They include household names such as Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, media personality Roland Martin, civil rights lawyer Barbara Arnwine, and Benjamin Chavis of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), among many others.
Richmond recently appeared on Sharpton’s radio show, “Keepin’ It Real.”
In response to Sharpton’s questions about the state of media diversity, Richmond gave a dismal report on the state of Black media in America.
“It’s not diverse at all, especially when you talk about the ownership of media in the United States,” he said. “You know it far better than I do because you have been there and been a voice…one that has always pushed for diversity. It’s something that we’ve never been able to accomplish or never been able to hold the powers that be to make them diversify it. Now you’re talking about a day and age where you have so much misinformation, so much fake news, so much alternative facts…people really need to know the truth and we always say that facts and truth empower people to know what’s going on in their community. That’s why your TV show is so important, your radio show is so important among other voices that are out there.”
According to Richmond, “if we don’t own it and you don’t have diversity in ownership, then you are at the whim of what others say.”
When Sharpton asked Richmond why Standard General’s deal with TEGNA matters, Richmond explained: “The proposed acquisition by Standard General of TEGNA would create the country’s…biggest TV broadcasting company owned by a minority, led by a female, and you have history. For an administration that focuses on diversity—and I know for a fact that the president when he says it, he means it—and the FCC is in the process of letting this golden opportunity to empower minority voices [fail]…You’re talking about a deal that would infuse almost $2 billion into TEGNA to allow them to expand local news funding. The leadership of Standard General, Soo Kim, has a great track record in terms of labor, in terms of investing in companies. Immediately off the bat, they’re saying they won’t lay anyone off in the newsroom for three years, and they’re going to continue to create local grant funds for local journalism.”
Even with top civil rights and Black media voices pushing for the TEGNA acquisition, it appears they are not being heard. Unless the FCC does an abrupt turnaround, it is still on course to allow the proposal to die, despite promises from Kim to maximize newsroom investment and diversity. “No one in the history of this country has had to deal with what the FCC is doing to Standard General,” Richmond concluded.
“We (Standard General) want to partner with community journalism groups to amplify the work they’re doing and the communities they represent,” Kim said in an interview last June. “We’re open to exploring new partnership models to get diverse viewpoints and perspectives on the air and to make sure people have the resources to do it. We’re calling it enhanced community access or creative community access, and we’re excited about the possibilities it will open up.”
Together, Standard General and TEGNA would be led by television industry veteran Deb McDermott, the first woman from broadcast management to be inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.
TEGNA has a national audience with stations in more than 50 markets. “I’ve long believed the people producing the news should be as diverse as those who tune in to watch it every day—and this deal is an opportunity to achieve exactly that,” Kim said last year.
Yet, a year later, the FCC mysteriously appears poised to allow the venture to fail.
Richmond explained in his op-ed: “The review process is meant to be completed within 180 days based on an informal ‘shot clock.’ Yet it took the FCC nearly a full year to make any announcement about it all; and when the commission finally did last week, the message was that it was going to delay a ruling even further by referring the deal to an administrative law judge for more hearings. Keen industry observers were quick to point out that this further delay was likely a death sentence for the transaction—since this drawn-out legal process will likely continue well past the May 22nd closing deadline for the acquisition. Indeed, Standard General acknowledged as much in its public statements.”
Among the deal’s earliest supporters, Ben Chavis, nresident/CEO of NNPA, which has more than 22 million readers per week, said this week that the FCC should immediately revive Kim’s proposal.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association takes the position that the FCC should reconsider this issue of Soo Kim and the issue of the potential benefit to communities of color as a result of this proposal. We believe that upon a re-review by the FCC, it should be reconsidered because it would bring great economic benefit and strongly deal with the issue of equity. The FCC not approving this merger contributes to inequity,” Chavis said.
Despite what appears to be deaf ears at the FCC, the civil rights community shows no sign of giving up.
“The FCC’s failure to seize this opportunity to advance minority media ownership is beyond disappointing,” wrote Richmond. “From Day 1, the Biden-Harris administration has taken bold action to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout government. Undermining the attempt by a minority business leader to acquire a major media property, and doing so in a way that is totally unprecedented, is, on its face, at odds with the administration’s approach and core values. It is difficult to understand how we have come to this place.”
The FCC is running out of time to do the right thing, Richmond said. But it’s not too late. He and others are clear: Our voices won’t be silenced even if they aren’t being heard.
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