The Rev. Jesse Jackson — the headliner among witnesses skedded to testify at a Federal Communications Commission hearing today on media consolidation — charged the nation’s top media regulator with harboring an “anti-diversity” agenda that seeks to placate minorities with “consolation” prizes.
In a letter sent Tuesday to FCC chairman Kevin Martin and the agency’s four commissioners, Jackson took issue with two of Martin’s pet policies, a la carte cable subscriptions — which Jackson called “an obsession” — and leasing of digital broadcast channels to minorities.
Martin has long pressed the cable TV industry for a la carte subs, arguing that consumers should be able to order — and pay for — only the channels they want. He has also pushed cablers on multicast must-carry, which would force cablers to carry as many as six digital channels that a broadcaster could transmit, taking up valuable channel space for cable ops. Martin has also pushed for multicast, saying that some of the extra digital channels would be made available on a leased basis for “qualified entities,” which would include minority interests.
Starting with digital leasing, Jackson wrote, “This proposal is regarded by many as a consolation prize for what is widely considered to be an anti-diversity agenda emanating from the FCC. In particular, there is growing concern about what many regard as an obsession — there can be no other word for it — with pushing a la carte regulations, despite the fact that nearly every minority program network and civil rights organization, supported by nearly every public and private study, has said that such a policy would hinder emerging minority programmers from achieving the scale and household reach necessary for financial viability.”
Jackson said that minority broadcasters want to own channels or networks — not lease them from another, established broadcaster. He argued that Martin’s policies, if enacted, would benefit existing, big media, and create more broad-based programming such as informercials.
Minority leaders and some studies have claimed that minority-focused programming depends on being bundled into large channel packages, in which viewers often discover niche programs by channel surfing.
“It is in this context that I find the proposal to allow some minority broadcasters to lease time on the multicast must-carry channels so objectionable and so irrelevant to the aspirations of our communities,” Jackson wrote.