Martin under fire for recent remarks

WASHINGTON — A coalition of civil rights and minority advocacy groups has blasted Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin for “patronizing and insulting” public remarks he recently made alleging that their opposition to a la carte cable subscriptions has been bought and paid for.

“We are deeply disturbed by this unfair and baseless attack and would ask that you clear the record expeditiously with a public apology and an unequivocal retraction,” the groups wrote in a joint letter to Martin that was delivered Wednesday.

The groups — including the Black Leadership Forum, the Hispanic Federation and the National Black Chamber of Commerce — cited remarks attributed to Martin in a recent address to a media gathering. In those remarks, Martin, a vocal proponent for a la carte, said the groups’ collective opposition to a la carte was the result of “financial relationships that some (of the groups) may have with television programmers and distributors.”

The groups have repeatedly said they oppose a la carte because various studies and analyses conclude that it would undermine programming diversity as well as opportunities for minority programmers.

“In short, all available data and a chorus of expert opinion overwhelmingly support our arguments against a la carte regulations,” the letter said. “The idea that you would suggest that you somehow know better about what is in the best interests of African American, Hispanic, women’s and other communities is puzzling, to say the very least.

“Moreover, your public argument that this consensus position is based not on our experience and knowledge about the communities that we represent, but because some interested party may have attended a fund-raising dinner or supported another activity of ours, is a groundless and outrageous accusation that we do not take lightly,” the letter continued.

In a written response to the groups, Martin offered a conditional apology, but not for the remarks. First, he once more asserted at length his belief — and that of others, like some consumer organizations — that a la carte would have a positive effect on programming diversity and minority groups.

He then said that the remarks in question were not his own, but from a Center for Public Integrity study he said he had “referenced” in answering a question.

Quoting the study in his response, Martin said, “That study concluded, ‘The grassroots opposition to a la carte is actually a highly sophisticated lobbying campaign where seemingly disinterested third parties — like nonprofits and legislators — are spreading the anti-a la carte message using minority programming as the key issue.’ 

“I would like to express that I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the work and views expressed by your organizations,” Martin said in closing. “I apologize if my recent comments led some to believe otherwise.”

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